The Penn State-Altoona and Juniata softball teams met for a doubleheader Tuesday at Stewart Field — and all of a sudden a Centre County all-star game broke out.
A total of eight players with Centre County roots, five on PSU-Altoona and three on Juniata, played in the doubleheader, which the teams split. In the first game, won by Altoona 9-1, the entire Altoona infield was made up of former county players with Philipsburg-Osceola’s Kate Burge in the circle and Abby Showers at third while Bald Eagle Area’s Haley Giedroc was at short, Ally Simpson was at second and Sidney Shultz was at first. And Juniata had State College’s Ally Baney at second and Alyssa Shedlock in center, while Bellefonte’s Rachael Bernier was a pinch hitter in Game 2.
But if the day was a celebration of Centre County talent, in a larger sense it belonged to Giedroc.
The games were dedicated to her father, Walt, who has been battling lymphoma for nine years, and the Altoona team wore lime-green jerseys as a show of support for the family. Between games Haley spoke briefly to the crowd, acknowledging her dad, calling him her hero.
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It wouldn’t be a stretch to call her Altoona’s hero as she went 3 for 3 with three runs scored and a homer to lead Altoona to the win in the first game.
“When I introduced my dad, the emotion hit me,” she said. “I went into the game determined to make every play and hit every hit for him. And then when I hit the home run for him, I saw that he was here. It’s not every day that he can make it to my games.”
Added coach Joe Merilli: “This was a big day for Haley. It’s one of those days that is why you play the game. She got us started with that home run, and we were able to keep it going. She is one of our most consistent hitters, along with Abby and Kelsey Bristol.’’
Her homer came at a good time for Altoona (15-13) since Juniata had nicked Burge for a run in the first on an RBI-single by Shedlock.
In the third Giedroc homered to deep left to tie the game. Showers followed with a single and came around to score on a double by Burge to make it 2-1.
Altoona blew the game open in the fifth, and the county players were in the middle of the rally. Altoona then ended the game on the eight-run rule in the sixth on a double by Kelsey Bristol, a single by Giedroc and a single by Julia Helbling.
“That first game was Penn State-Altoona softball,” Merilli said. “We get great pitching, great defense and timely hitting. After the first time around against their pitcher we made some nice adjustments.”
The county contingent was a combined 6 for 12 in the front game as Burge had two hits and Simpson one. In the nightcap Giedroc went 1 for 3 to give her a 4-for-6 day, and Showers had a pair of hits to give the county a 9-for-20 line with seven runs scored. Juniata (14-18) got five hits from the county, with Shedlock having three, including a triple and two RBIs, and Baney adding a double and an RBI. Bernier went 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter.
“We kind of snowballed a little bit in that first game,” Juniata coach Sam Kszepka said. “We’re young and that happens to us quite a bit, more than we’d like. We sort of let that first game get away. I was happy with the intensity of the second game.”
With good reason. Juniata jumped on Altoona starter Morgan Brumbaugh for three runs in the first with Shedlock contributing a single and scoring a run. In the second the Eagles added three more — two on a triple to right-center by Shedlock, who later scored on a single by Abby Ebright.
Juniata closed out the game on a two-run triple by Urich for an 11-0 win.
“Playing Altoona is a good challenge for us,” Kszepka said. “And we tend to split with them. But it’s a shorter trip for us than our conference games and it helps get us ready for our weekend games.”
Altoona has a key conference showdown with PSU-Behrend on Saturday with the winner likely to take the AMCC lead. With that in mind Merilli rested several starters in the second game Tuesday including Simpson and Burge.
“I’m happy,” Merilli said, referring to the split. “We got a chance to get our younger players into the game and get some work.”
And even though Altoona outnumbered Juniata in the number of county players, Kszepka is happy with the ones she has.
“I try to recruit locally,” she said. “And I travel around. But the State College kids are awesome, and Rachel (Bernier) has been doing great for us.”