To paraphrase a line from the movie Secretariat, “Get ready Centre County. Monday you’re gonna see something you ain’t never seen before. So get ready.”
That something would be BEA-P-O, Part IV in the softball war between these two intra-county rivals. The Lady Mounties, already knowing Bald Eagle Area had beaten Wilmington when they took the field, made sure it would happen when they dispatched District 7 champion Beaver 9-6 at St. Francis University’s Red Flash Softball Field on Thursday, giving the Lady Bobcats their only loss of the season.
So now the county has two of the best four Class AA teams in the state and only one of them will move on to the PIAA finals.
“There could be a 1,000 people at that game,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said of the looming battle in the state semifinals. “They better put it somewhere that can hold that many people.”
The crowd on hand to watch this PIAA quarterfinal game wasn’t nearly that large. But the game didn’t lack for drama from the first inning to the last out when P-O gunned down a Beaver runner at the plate, preventing a seventh run for the Lady Bobcats.
“We made a great play with that relay there at the end,” Gonder said. “Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t get that out?”
What is known is that for the second game in a row the Lady Mounties spotted the opposition a first-inning lead and then erased it.
Beaver’s Taylor Rousseau opened the game by driving a 2-2 pitch from Chelsey Henry over the left field fence. Jennifer Kondracki followed with a single, Casey Farkasovsky’s grounder back to the mound was bobbled, Hayley Champ got aboard on an error that allowed Kondracki to score and a wild pitch allowed the third run of the inning to score before Henry got a pop-up and a strikeout to choke off the rally.
She redeemed herself in the bottom of the inning as Hayley Frank doubled to left, Kenzie Burge doubled to left-center, Haylee Hayward singled and when the ball got by the left fielder, Burge scored. Henry followed with a high, arching drive over the fence in left-center to return the lead to P-O.
“When we got behind 3-0 it was important that we came in and answered that,” Gonder said. “We got four runs out of the top of our order. You can’t do much better than that. Chelsey’s home run got us back in the game.”
And then Henry went to right field as Gonder relieved her with freshman Maggie Peck.
“We have them both ready and if things aren’t working out for one of them we get them out of there,” Gonder said of his pitching switch. “We were still deciding which one to start right up to game time.”
Peck gave up the tying run in the third when Farkasovsky tripled past a diving Tiffani Wagner in left field and scored two outs later on Bella Valent’s double into the left-center gap.
After that, Peck allowed only one base runner until the seventh inning when Beaver mounted a desperate rally with two outs.
“I was a little frightened when it was 3-0,” Peck admitted. “But then I figured it’s only the first inning, there’s a lot of game left. And I felt confident with my defense behind me.”
Peck said she wasn’t shocked when Gonder gave her the ball to start the second inning.
“He always tells me to be ready just in case,” she said. “And I’m starting to get more comfortable now. I also understand that if we don’t win there’s no second chance.”
P-O gave Peck a cushion when it erupted for three runs in the fourth with two outs.
Abby Showers reached on a fielder’s choice then Frank, Burge and Hayward had consecutive singles and an error allowed Burge to score the third run of the inning.
P-O tacked on a pair of welcomed insurance runs in the sixth when Wagner drew a lead-off walk, went to second on Frank’s single and scored on a double to right-center by Burge. Frank later scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Hayward.
For the day, Frank and Burge each went 4-for-4, scored five runs and drove in four from the second and third spots in the order.
While the Lady Mounties were adding runs, Peck was retiring 11 batters in a row before the Beaver bats came alive in the seventh.
With two outs Jennifer Kondracki and Farkasovsky each singled and Champ drew a walk to load the bases. A single by Ashley Kondracki drove in two runs, giving the Lady Beavers runners on first and second. Valent then singled to center, but Champ ran through a stop sign at third and a perfect relay to Frank cut her down for the game-ending out.
Peck allowed nine hits and three runs but walked only one and struck out four to get the win in relief.
Frank was impressed with her freshman battery mate.
“She’s such a great pitcher,” she said. “I’m proud of her. In the seventh I went out and talked to her and just told her to hit her spots and we’d be all right, that if she hit her spots then she’d done all she can do. She did what she needed to do.”
Gonder was also impressed with Peck, particularly her poise.
“She was a little tight there at the end but that last out is always the toughest one to get,” he said. “But one thing I noticed about her today was that she would be out there bobbling the ball and then she’d ask for a new ball. I’d say 99 percent of the pitchers wouldn’t do that, they’d just go ahead and throw the ball they have.”
Beaver coach Butch Rousseau was quick to credit the whole P-O team, the first one to beat his all year.
“We had opportunities but we just couldn’t cash them in,” he said. “We weren’t able to protect the plate. We couldn’t put anything together. We knew they were a good team, that they hit the ball if they got a pitch they liked. Their catcher (Frank), it didn’t matter what pitch we threw her, she hit it.”
Now the countdown clock is ticking toward Monday’s showdown between BEA and P-O. Each of the first three games was decided by one run.
Peck expects more of the same on Monday.
“It will be interesting,’’ she said. “It should be a really competitive game.’’