A crowd of Wilmington students, many of whom had been tailgating for more than an hour, made a loud entrance to Thursday’s playoff game against Bald Eagle Area.
One fan chided, “We’re not having turkey for dinner tonight. We’re having eagle.”
BEA’s players heard the commotion and made sure the menu consisted of another bird — crow.
Bald Eagle Area scored two quick runs in the first inning and rode an outstanding pitching effort from Makennah Dyke to a 4-1 victory against Wilmington in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals at Slippery Rock University.
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The triumph sets up a dream matchup between the Lady Eagles (21-4) and Centre County rival Philipsburg-Osceola (21-5), which rallied past Beaver 9-6 later in the afternoon, on Monday. That winner will play for a PIAA crown on June 13 at Penn State.
BEA, which has made a habit of making late-inning heroics this postseason, took control from its first at-bat and never let Wilmington (17-4) or its fans have much to cheer about.
After an out, Makennah Dyke fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches and worked for a walk off the Lady Greyhounds’ Katie Shenker. Courtesy runner Dallis Dillon moved up on a wild pitch and scored easily as Mikala Smith lined a double just inside the left-field line.
After an out, Logan Fischer lined a single to right-center and Smith cruised home to give the Lady Eagles a quick 2-0 lead.
“That’s what we talked about the whole way up,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “We had to get up. We haven’t been up in too many games.”
“We weren’t the ‘Cardiac Kids’ for once,” said Fischer of the Lady Eagles, who have won three eight-inning games in the postseason. “It felt good not being pressured and being able to relax for once.”
The players said it also felt good to silence the Wilmington students, who were hard not to notice before the game.
“When they were all cheering, we made the comment that, ‘We need to shut them up,’” Makennah Dyke said. “So, that’s what we did. Once we got the lead, they kind of stopped and we definitely noticed that. It was kind of funny, actually.”
Fischer agreed the Wilmington crowd, whose 20-mile trip was a lot shorter than the two-hour ride for BEA, motivated the Lady Eagles.
“It did today,” the right fielder said. “It usually never happens because our crowd is always bigger.”
The Lady Eagles would add another run in the second. Makenzie Proctor singled, moved to second on Moreta Dyke’s sacrifice and scored as Morgan Nyman drilled a one-hopper off the left-center field fence.
Makennah Dyke (16-3) hasn’t seen many three-run leads lately and was pleased to have some wiggle room.
“Once we got the lead, it relieved a lot of pressure,” Dyke said. “I had a little bit of pressure at the beginning of the game, but once we got the lead I felt great.”
The senior right-hander retired the first 10 batters before Wilmington strung together three straight hits for a run in the fourth. From there, Dyke allowed just one hit and two baserunners.
She was backed by errorless defense. Shortstop Haley Giedroc made the fielding play of the day, going deep into the hole and gunning down Courtney Cohen, who drove in the Lady Greyhounds’ lone run, in the second inning.
BEA continued to hit Shenker, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard until the sixth when a bad bunt and a good bunt added an insurance run.
Olivia Andrews led off with a single. Proctor tried twice to get a bunt down and couldn’t, but then lined a single to left. Moreta Dyke then dropped down an excellent bunt, which she nearly beat out.
Wilmington then tried to throw behind Skyler Woodward, who was pinch-running for Proctor, at second. That was a big mistake as Andrews took off and scored from third without a throw to the plate.
“It was all her, buddy,” Heverly said of Andrews’ dash to the plate. “I said, ‘Honey, watch her, watch her. I looked back and looked down and she was half the way home. That was a big run. That took the starch out of their sails.”
Whatever starch was left, Makennah Dyke finished off. She struck out the first two batters in the seventh and got the final out on a grounder to Giedroc.
“I was so pumped,” Makennah Dyke said of the seventh inning. “I had a lot of faith in the team and we all had a lot of faith in each other.”
Dyke, who tossed a three-hitter in a 2-1 win over Seton LaSalle on Monday, finished with one walk and six strikeouts.
“It’s unbelievable, one run the last game and one run this game,” Heverly said of his pitcher. “She’s not overpowering. … The seventh inning she’s tough as nails. She’s unbelievable. She’s just the top.”
Proctor and Marissa Tobias had two singles apiece to lead BEA’s 12-hit attack. Eight starters had at least one hit and pinch-hitter Morgan Peters also contributed a single.
“We have strength up-and-down the lineup,” Proctor said. “We believe in all of the girls.”
What the Lady Eagles have trouble believing is where they are now — one of the state’s four best Class AA teams.
“It’s amazing,” said Proctor, a junior. “I always thought that we were going to do it, but now that it’s finally here I still can’t get over the fact that we’re one of the four top in the state.”
Fischer said the team has come a long way. “In the beginning of the year, not at all would I expect it,” the sophomore right fielder said. “At our open gyms, half of us couldn’t even hit a ball.”
What has been the difference?
“We became really close and our pitcher is really something,” Fischer said. “And now, we have a really good hitting team.”
The Lady Eagles now get one more game against Philipsburg-Osceola. The two teams have played three one-run games, with BEA holding a 2-1 edge thanks to a 5-4, eighth inning win in the District 6 title game.
“Oh, my,” Fischer said of the prospects of meeting the Lady Mounties again. “That is going to be the game.”