So many fans were lined up trying to get into Nittany Lion Softball Park for Wednesday’s District 6 Class AA Softball Championship, that organizers delayed the start of the title game.
When rivals Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola clashed for the third time this season, the overflow crowd of 1,100 got what they wanted — and more.
Extra innings packed with drama were needed to decide the rubber match between the two Centre County rivals and in the ended two freshmen decided the contest. BEA’s Olivia Andrews doubled and later scored on Moreta Dyke’s bloop single to left to give the Lady Eagles a riveting 5-4 triumph in eight innings over P-O.
BEA (19-4), with its first district title since 2009, will face the third-place team from District 7 in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs at Beard Field. The Lady Mounties (19-5) will take on the District 9 champion at a site-to-be determined on Monday.
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“Somebody should write a book,” an ecstatic BEA coach Curt Heverly said after the contest. “I can’t believe it. We’re 19-4. A District title. We’re four games from state champs. ... It’s just incredible.
“That was a great game.”
“We did not think there was going to be this many people,” said Makennah Dyke, who tossed a six-hitter. “They kept saying it was going to be packed. I think we were all nervous in the beginning, but once we got out of the first inning we were fine.”
The two rivals split a pair of one-run decisions during the regular-season and Wednesday’s title game promised to be another barnburner. The rooting sections from each side chanted back-and-forth to each other and hung on every pitch down the stretch.
“I expected a one-run game,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said. “There were two evenly matched teams. I expected a game like that. I wish we had the one more run.”
But for the first half of the game, P-O looked like it would notch its fifth straight crown. The Lady Mounties raced to a 4-0 lead through four innings behind one-hit pitching from Chelsey Henry, who also doubled home a pair of runs in the third.
“We just don’t start very well,” Heverly said. “I get so frustrated by it.”
BEA which has trailed by at least two runs in three of its four postseason wins began to scrap back. Moreta Dyke tripled and scored on Morgan Nyman’s single in the fifth and then got even in the sixth.
Marissa Tobias led off with a walk, Mikala Smith reached on a one-out error and Andrews singled to load the bases. Makenzie Proctor singled up the middle to plate Tobias and Moreta Dyke walked to plate Smith. Gonder then replaced Henry in the circle with Maggie Peck, who had pitched just twice (for eight innings) during the regular season.
Peck, a freshman, gave up an RBI grounder to Nyman, but got out of the bases-loaded mess with a strikeout.
P-O had a chance to win it in the seventh, putting runners at first and second with one out and second and third with two outs. On both occasions, Makennah Dyke came up with big strikeouts to send the game into extra innings.
“Makennah Dyke was a bulldog,” Heverly said.
“I was just trying to get ground balls,” said Dyke, who did not allow a hit over the final three innings. “I wasn’t trying for strikeouts.”
Her teammates would get her the run she needed in a bizarre eighth inning.
Andrews led off by pounding an opposite-field double that one-hopped the right-field wall. Proctor singled off of Peck’s glove to put runners at the corners. Moreta Dyke then looped a fly ball into left field that just ticked off the edge of shortstop Haylee Hayward’s glove. As Andrews raced home to score, Hayward fired high to the plate allowing the runners to advance to second and third and set the stage for something crazy.
Nyman grounded to Peck, who threw to first for an out. Dyke rounded second base too far and the Lady Mounties threw to Hayward to get Dyke in a rundown. Pinch-runner Skylar Woodward broke for the plate and was thrown out by Hayward. Dyke, thinking there were three outs, strayed too far from third and catcher Haley Frank fired down to third baseman Abby Showers who tagged out Dyke to complete a triple play.
As wild as that was, Makennah Dyke took out all of the drama in the bottom of the inning. She got the Lady Mounties on three straight grounders to end the game.
As BEA players celeberated, the P-O players left the field in tears, even though they have at least another game to play in the PIAA Tournament.
“This game meant a lot to them,” Gonder said. “It meant a lot to me. ... Our kids will bounce back.”
P-O took advantage on an error in the first inning and some wildness by Dyke to take a quick 2-0 lead. Hayward smacked an RBI triple and after two walks trotted home as Dyke plunked Tara Bainey.
Andrews, Proctor and Moreta Dyke had two hits each for BEA. Hayward and Henry had two hits for P-O.
The two teams could meet again in the PIAA semifinals if they could notch two wins.
“Now, that would be another game,” Heverly chuckled.