This time there would be no stake-in-the-heart comeback to haunt the Ligonier Valley girls’ softball team for a year. Jackie Berry made sure of that.
After Bald Eagle Area, the team that staged a seven-run last-inning rally to knock the Lady Rams out of the District 6 AA playoffs a year ago, forged a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning Thursday, Berry delivered a knockout blow in the top of the seventh to give Ligonier Valley a 5-4 win and berth in the quarterfinals Monday.
With one out in the top of the seventh Jeanie Markosky drew a walk before Courtney Lear hit into a fielder’s choice, moving Markosky to second. BEA, having already been burned by Maddy Grimm, who hit a two-run home run in the third inning, intentionally walked her for the second time in the game. That brought up Berry, who tripled into the right field corner to give the Rams a two-run cushion heading into the bottom of the inning.
“It’s always important, who you have hitting behind someone,” said Ligonier Valley coach Mark Zimmerman. “Jackie’s been hitting the ball hard all year. It’s important that she protects Maddy. If they keep walking her, Jackie is always up there with someone on base.
“And you know, when you walk her (Grimm), you’re not only putting a girl on base, she can run like a gazelle so she usually ends up somewhere other than first base. Sometimes you’re better off just pitching to her and maybe she’ll hit the ball at somebody.”
Grimm, an extraordinary athlete who is headed to Kent State on a softball scholarship, has now hit four home runs against BEA in her career.
The Lady Eagles planned to keep that number at three, pitching Grimm way outside in her first at-bat, coaxing a soft fly to shortstop. Things didn’t work out as well on her second plate appearance as she drove a 1-0 pitch over the right-center field fence with Markosky aboard to make it 2-0.
“That pitch wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” said BEA coach Kayleen Sidisky. “It was supposed to be in the other batter’s box but what are you going to do, these are kids. And she (Grimm) made us pay when we made a mistake. It’s tough when a player is that good. And their No. 2 hitter (Berry), did what she needed to do. She needed to get a hit there and she did. She stepped up. We weren’t able to do that.”
Grimm, who finished the day accounting for three of the Lady Rams five runs, has grown accustomed to seeing few hittable pitches.
“It’s frustrating,” she admitted. “Because you know that there’s not even a chance you’re going to get more than a single out of it. But I figure if they are going to put me that’s OK as long as they pay for it in the end then it’s all right. When I was on first I was like ‘Please, God, let me score,’ and He answered.
“I was surprised in my second at-bat that she gave me that pitch. It was exactly where I like it.”
Grimm said the image of last year’s last-inning loss has carried over into this season. “When we came here we said this was our revenge tour, that anyone who beat us last year we were going to get them back.”
BEA scratched out a run in the fourth inning to make it 2-1 when Haley Geidroc scored on the back end of a double steal.
In the sixth Ligonier Valley went up 3-1 when the BEA defense committed a pair of infield errors, allowing Breanne Wallace to score, but in the bottom of the inning the Lady Eagles evened the score.
With one out Geidroc, who had three hits in the game, singled off pitcher Holly Umbaugh and Marissa Tobias doubled to the fence in dead center, moving Geidroc to third. Logan Fischer then hit a humpback liner just over Grimm’s glove at short, scoring Geidroc and Tobias while Fischer took third on the throw to the plate. Dudish lined out to second and Mackenna Dyke struck out to end the inning.
“I thought we were going to score when Logan was at third,” Sidisky said. “But that’s been a killer all year. We just haven’t been able to make a play when we needed it. In the playoffs in District 6 you have to be close to perfect to be where you need to be.”
Zimmerman knows all about that, especially when he’s matched up with teams from Centre County.
“We know that as soon as we cross the Centre County line we’re going to run into good softball,” he said. “It wasn’t a surprise that they came back today. I told the girls that we were going to be in a dogfight, that it was going to be a real struggle playing them here at their place.”
BEA proved Zimmerman right when it threatened in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Mikayla Smith drew a walk. After pinch-hitter Sydney Foster popped out to second, Ally Simpson singled Smith home, the ball going just over Grimm, who had her back to the plate in pursuit. Geidroc then beat out an infield single to put runners on first and second before Umbaugh struck out Tobias to end the game and BEA’s season.