Seconds after dousing Coach Curt Heverly with a cooler full of cold water, the Bald Eagle Area softball players began to shriek.
“We’re going to Penn State. We’re going to Penn State.”
Thanks to Haley Giedroc’s three-run blast, and solid pitching and defense, the Lady Eagles have punched their ticket to Beard Field for the first time in school history.
Fourth-seeded BEA bounced top-seeded and previously unbeaten Penn Cambria 5-1 on Friday. The triumph clinched a PIAA Tournament berth for the Lady Eagles (18-4) and gives them a shot at their first district crown since 2009, as they face rival Philipsburg-Osceola (19-4) in the title game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Nittany Lions Softball Park. The two teams split a pair of one-run decisions during the regular season.
“We’re so happy,” Giedroc said. “We had a goal at the beginning of the season to make it to district finals and here we are. We are just so relieved.”
“If we don’t win at Penn State, which we’re hoping to, we’re going to states,” added Morgan Nyman, who had three hits, scored twice, stole two bases and drove in a run from the No. 9 spot in the batting order. “I’ve always wanted to go to states. It’s like a dream.”
The Lady Eagles had been held hitless by Penn Cambria ace Kelly Yusko through two innings before Makenzie Proctor led off the top of the third with an infield single. After Moreta Dyke bunted Proctor to second, Nyman singled to right to put runners at the corners.
Giedroc wasted little time sending everyone home. She hammered Yusko’s first offering down the left-field line and the ball easily cleared the fence to put the Lady Eagles up 3-0.
“It was the first pitch I saw,” said Giedroc. “It looked good, so you know I’m going to give it my hardest swing and it went. I thought it was going to hit the fence and I was going to get a double. I was just happy it went over so a could get my team a couple of runs and get us up.”
The blast changed more than the score for the Lady Eagles, who had not tallied first in their previous two playoff wins.
“I relaxed us a lot,” Giedroc said. “We were pretty tense to begin with. After we got those couple of runs, it relaxed us all and we played a lot better.”
“It took off so much pressure,” pitcher Makennah Dyke agreed. “After that, I realized we had a little bit of a lead and it made me not as nervous to go out there and it didn’t make me nervous to give up runs.”
Giedroc’s blast also proved the Lady Eagles could hit Yusko, who entered the contest with an 18-0 record and an average of more than a strikeout per inning.
“After that, we did hit her,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “They made some good fielding plays or we’d have had more runs.”
Yusko, who had 443 career strikeouts entering the game, fanned just three Lady Eagles.
“That’s low,” Penn Cambria coach Jake Casale said. “She usually has 10 to 14 average. In our conference, most of the teams like us are challenged at the bottom. A lineup like that, that’s a tribute to their team. They put the bat on the ball and made you make plays. ... She pitched as good as she’s pitched all year. I think the team she faced had a little better bats.”
“The bottom line is we’ve worked on it,” said Heverly, who has turned his pitching machine on high on multiple occasions. “I was impressed how we hit the ball today.”
Penn Cambria would get a run back in the bottom of the third on Mackenzie McIntosh’s two-out single, but Makennah Dyke would leave two runners on base to end the inning.
It wasn’t the first or last time in the game that the BEA right-hander would frustrate the Lady Panthers. Dyke got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first. She would strand runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings.
“I don’t think I was at my top game,” said Dyke, who allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out four to improve to 12-3 on the season. “But, I definitely think the rest of my team was. I was just thinking to get grounders because I knew that anyone behind me could get them. ... I could hear the way they were talking in the dugout and they getting all frustrated they couldn’t get hits.”
“She was definitely hitting her spots,” catcher Nyman said. “She did a great job. (The umpire) wasn’t giving us much of the outside corner, but we worked with it.”
Nyman would play a part in the Lady Eagles’ last two runs.
In the fifth., Nyman smacked a one-out single and moved to second on Giedroc’s line single off the first baseman’s glove. The two executed a double-steal on Yusko’s first pitch to Makennah Dyke. After falling behind 0-2, Dyke battled several pitches and finally lofted a sacrifice fly to center field make the score 4-1.
The Lady Eagles tacked on one more insurance run in the seventh. Proctor led off by scorching a double that landed just of the left-field line and moved to third on Moreta Dyke’s bunt. With the infield playing back, Nyman grounded a single through the hole at shortstop to plate Proctor.
Makennah Dyke then retired the top of the Penn Cambria lineup in order. She got No. 3 Katie Little on a soft liner to shortstop Giedroc to end it. As BEA walked out for the postgame team meeting, Makennah Dyke and a teammate grabbed the cooler and nailed the unsuspecting Heverly for a cool bath on the chilly, windy afternoon.
“That was pretty fun, but we’ll probably get heck for it later,” Dyke said with a smile.
The damp clothing couldn’t wipe the smile of of Heverly’s face, who last coached BEA in a district title game in 2003.
“Unbelievable,” Heverly said. “We won the league, six all-stars, 18-4. I just didn’t know. It’s a heck of a softball team right now.”
Caithlyn Sheehan and McIntosh had two hits each for the Panthers.
Casale, who does not have the benefit of a junior high or junior varsity program, said the Lady Eagles were too tough in the contest, which was postponed a day for wet field conditions. “In our conference, we do well,” Casale said. “It’s when we take that step out of the conference and we play teams that the girls seem more fundamentally sound, that’s where we run into trouble.”
Now four-time defending champion Philipsburg-Osceola awaits the Lady Eagles for the district crown.
“We’re pretty excited,” Makennah Dyke. “We want this so bad and I think we can do it.”