You don’t have to be a member of the Robertson clan to know that you can’t leave ducks on the pond, especially when the postseason rolls around.
The State College softball team won’t have a chance to continue its District 6 softball “dynasty” after leaving too many runners in scoring position in Wednesday’s 1-0 Class AAAA semifinal loss to Central Mountain.
Rachael Shady tossed a four-hitter for the Lady Wildcats and stranded State College runners in scoring position in three critical innings, ending the Lady Little Lions’ hopes of its sixth district crown in seven seasons. Central Mountain (14-6) will face top-seeded Mifflin County for the title on May 29 at Nittany Lion Softball Field.
The Little Lions had runners at third with less than two outs twice and another at second with two outs, but Shady got out of each jam.
The scenario was a familiar refrain for State College coach Rick Hall, who has seen the trend often this season.
“That’s been our nemesis all year,” Hall said. “Up until about two weeks ago, we were batting .185 with two outs and runners in scoring position as a team. That’s what came back and bit us today. It came down to one pitch and one hit. Both teams played great played defense. ... We had our chances and didn’t come through and we had the meat of our order up.”
Trailing 1-0, the Lady Little Lions got their best opportunity to score in the top of the second. Cleanup hitter Jess Henderson led off with a swinging bunt that Shady threw away allowing Henderson to get to second. Courtesy runner Lauren Weiss moved up on a wild pitch putting the tying run 60 feet from the plate.
Weiss never moved. Shady whiffed Laura Harris, Lexi Mattivi and Hope Guthoff to get out of the inning.
“I was a little nervous, but I told myself I could do it and that I had a real strong defense behind me,” said Shady. “I knew I had to pitch myself out of a jam and that’s what I did.”
“That’s crucial,” Central Mountain coach David Peters said. “That’s her gutting it out and putting up a big performance.”
Shady was in trouble again in the next inning. Michaela Rittenhouse walked, was sacrificed to second and moved to third when Corey Marfitt reached on an error.
Megan Robert then hit a grounder back to Shady, who caught Rittenhouse in a rundown. Shady then hit Sharayah Simco with a pitch to load the bases, but she struck out Henderson with a 2-2 dropball.
State College’s final opportunity came in the fifth when Marfitt reached on a two-out infield hit and swiped second. Shady then struck out Robert to end the threat.
Of Shady’s seven strikeouts, five came with runners in scoring position.
With three pitchers capable of starting, Shady (6-2) wasn’t sure she’d even be in the circle against the Lady Little Lions.
“I actually found out just before when we were playing catch and throwing,” she said. “I was pretty excited. I was kind of surprised. ... I had some butterflies, but once I started pitching I knew I was going to be OK.”
Peters said choosing a pitcher was a tough choice. He picked Shady, even over Whitney Peters who pitched the Lady Wildcats to the district championship over Mifflin County last season, and Jessica Strouse, who led the team with a 2.25 ERA.
“We had a lot of conversation about it,” he said. “We felt confident we could start any of the three girls. ... Rachael has thrown really well in our last couple of games and so has Whitney, but we went with the decision to go with Rachael today. I’m not sure who we’re going to go with the next game.”
Shady made good on the tough decision. She allowed just four singles, walked one and hit two batters in her gem, utilizing a strong curve and drop.
“She was in control of the whole game,” Peters said. “She did what she needed to do as far as not putting runners on base. Her overall performance was outstanding. She threw real hard and did rack up some strikeouts.”
The difference in the contest came in the first inning. With a runner on, Strouse barely beat a double-play throw from second to extend the inning for Kayla Glossner. The cleanup hitter laced a 1-2 pitch from Henderson into the left-center field gap for a double, easily scoring Strouse.
From there, Henderson and the Lady Little Lion defense silenced the Wildcats. Henderson got herself out of two jams with runners at third and one out, both times getting a strikeout before inducing another out.
The right-hander allowed just six hits, two walks and struck out four and was backed by errorless defense.
“I thought she threw OK,” Hall said. “I didn’t think she was at the top of her game, but besides giving up the double in the first inning she kept them in check and the defense helped out a lot, too. It wasn’t her best, but she threw well enough to win.”
Pitching and defense wasn’t the problem for the Lady Little Lions, who have lost several close games over the years in the postseason.
“Since I’ve been here, every district or state playoff game we’ve lost has been by one run,” Hall said. “Again if I go back through all of the games, it comes down to timely hitting with runners in scoring position.”
Allison Baney, who missed the contest after undergoing shoulder surgery, Hannah Sefter, Michaella Francis, Guthoff and Flick were seniors for the Lady Little Lions.
“I want to thank the seniors,” Hall said. “For having a tough season, they still went out with a winning season. They just came up one run short of keeping playing.”