Three new faces in the Bellefonte lineup delivered in their first playoff starts and a couple of veterans came up with big plays, too.
Newcomers Sarah Menna and Erin Pugh each had three hits and combined to drive in five runs and Stevi Confer tossed a five-hitter as the third-seeded Lady Red Raiders thumped No. 2 Somerset 10-3 in the District 6 Class AAA semifinals Thursday. Bellefonte (11-10) will go for its 13th district crown in 14 seasons against Hollidaysburg, a 9-7 winner over Johnstown, on Wednesday at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Field.
Confer (11-5) got off to a rocky start, but was aided by a big defensive play by senior third baseman Jess McClenahan in the bottom of the first. Somerset opened with a pair of hits and loaded the bases with no outs. After a foul out, Somerset’s Sam Shaffer smoked a shot down the line that McClenahan made a diving stop on and tossed to shortstop Erica DeVinney for a force play at third. Confer got out of the jam by allowing just the one run.
Bellefonte tied it in the next inning. Pugh singled, moved to second on Alicia Allen’s sacrifice and to third on an outfield out. She raced home on Olivia Ripka’s infield hit to the right of Somerset pitcher Maddie Ream.
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The Lady Raiders broke the game open in the fourth. Carly Chambers led off with a single and raced home on Pugh’s triple to right. Pugh also scored on an error on the play. Confer reached on an error and Ripka walked before Vanessa Cooper crashed a three-run bomb over the right-center field fence, her third home run of the season.
Cooper’s thunder brought the rain. The teams endured about an 75-minute delay before the field could become playable.
Bellefonte picked up where it left off, extending the lead to 7-1 in the fifth. Menna singled and pinch-runner Jordan Rockey eventually came around to score on Pugh’s RBI grounder.
The Lady Raiders put the contest away in the sixth. Confer walked and after an out Cooper singled. Following another out, Somerset reliever Syd Geary pitched around DeVinney to load the bases for Menna. The sophomore delivered with a bullet into the left-field corner, clearing the bases with a three-run double.
Menna, hitting cleanup, and Pugh, a junior who is No. 6 in the batting order, were a combined 6-for-8 in their first postseason starts.
“That’s fantastic,” Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said. “That takes the pressure off of Vanessa Cooper or Erica DeVinney who feel like they have to come through.”
Confer was perfect in the third, fourth and fifth retiring all nine batters on eight grounders and a strikeout. She allowed two runs in the sixth, but finished with no walks and three strikeouts. She also got out of a jam in the second inning, stranding a runner at third by getting two final outs.
“She threw one of her better games of the season,” Kohlhepp said of his sophomore. “We really thought her pitches were moving. ... She stayed composed. It was really a big test for her. ... She battled and her teammates did a really good job of keeping her positive. ... Defensively we stayed composed and we made some great plays.
“We were really worried about the rain delay,” he added. “We hadn’t had that situation this year. She did a great job.”
Cooper added two hits in the Lady Raiders’ 10-hit attack.
Bellefonte now eyes another district crown. The Lady Raiders face Hollidaysburg, who defeated them 3-2 in early April.
“They’re really excited,” Kohlhepp said of his team. “We knew it was going to be a bumpy ride at the outset of the season in terms of so many new faces and who was going to take on what roles. To weather all of that and to come together because of all of the adversity they faced and the situations they were in ... I think that says a lot for the team.”