Bald Eagle Area freshman Maddie Perry let her mind wander during the bus ride to Tuesday’s game. She stared out the window, bobbed her head to country music, and daydreamed big — about smacking the walk-off hit in a tied game.
She never thought her dream would become a reality a few hours later. She didn’t think, with two outs and the bases loaded, that she’d actually be the reason for the Lady Eagles’ 1-0 walk-off win over Clearfield in the semifinals of the PIAA Class 3A Softball Championships.
But Bald Eagle Area is now advancing to Friday’s state title game against Pine Grove — and Perry’s walk-off hit to shallow left helped that dream become a reality.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Perry, a freshman, said with a smile. “But I know when I step on the field, my age does not matter whatsoever. I’m on the varsity field and I have to step up; that’s my job — and that’s what I did.”
Tuesday’s game at Mount Aloysius was a pitchers’ duel for the Mountain League ages, one that called for a hero to step up at the plate. Bald Eagle Area’s Madison Peters finished with 16 strikeouts while allowing three walks and two hits; Clearfield’s Emma Hipps had a perfect game headed into the final frame and finished with 13 strikeouts while allowing two hits and intentionally walking two.
The first 25 pitches of the game were all strikes. BEA didn’t have its first baserunner until the sixth inning when Clearfield’s catcher committed an error on a bunt; Clearfield had a runner in scoring position in the second and sixth innings but couldn’t capitalize.
No one got past second base until the final inning — when Perry’s dream spilled over into reality.
“I’m sure she was crapping razor blades, but she didn’t show it,” BEA coach Don Lucas said with a laugh. “I felt good with her up tonight.”
Center fielder Mara Hockenberry led the bottom of the final inning off by breaking up Hipps’ perfect game with a bunt-single down the third-base line. A sacrifice bunt moved her to second. A pop out, intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk juiced the bases and set up the moment Perry often dreamt about during the long bus rides to her games this season.
Bases loaded. Two outs. Tied game. A hit wins it.
Perry knew Clearfield must’ve had no faith in her to intentionally walk the girl in front of her. She could feel her adrenaline spike as she walked to the batter’s box, taking time to remind herself of the advice in the dugout: Keep your hands high, take a step back, and be prepared for a high fastball.
The pitch came high, and a little inside, but Perry swung. She was jammed — but the ball came off the handle of the bat, soaring in the air as one of Clearfield’s radio broadcasters yelled, “No! No! No!” The left fielder took a step back, then charged forward. The shortstop turned her hips and tried to run backward.
But the lazy fly dropped in shallow left field where no one could get to it. Hockenberry crossed home plate, and the Lady Eagles sprinted out of the dugout to celebrate. Hipps — who retired the first 17 batters — collapsed in the circle.
“It was not solid contact whatsoever, and I will be honest with that,” said Perry, whose hands were still trembling minutes after her game-winning hit. “But I knew I had to get the bat on the ball. ... It was instant relief. Tears brought to my eyes.”
Added Peters: “It might give some people heart problems, but it’s fine. We always pull it out.”
Up until the final inning, it looked as if the momentum was heading Clearfield’s way.
In the first six innings, Bald Eagle Area only once hit it out of the infield — when Makena Baney smacked a fly ball right into the glove of a waiting outfielder in the fourth. In fact, in the first six frames, the only non-strikeout outs came on that fly, a pop-out and three failed bunts. “We couldn’t solve her,” Lucas said. “Kudos to her, honest to God.”
Hipps’ pitches often painted the inside and, to the batters, her pitches seemed to rise and curve at the last second. That spin was something she didn’t have in their first two meetings, when BEA thumped Clearfield by a combined 26-2.
But, when BEA’s Peters was in the circle, not much seemed different Tuesday. She uncharacteristically walked two batters in the second inning but bounced back with a four-pitch strikeout to end the inning. In the final three frames, she registered eight strikeouts.
“It’s not frustrating; it’s more like everybody was having a rough time — they were and we were, batting,” Peters said. “So I knew it would come down to the last inning.”
Thankfully for the Lady Eagles, Perry stepped up so now, on the bus ride back home, she can daydream about her real game-winning hit. And about playing for a state title.
Bald Eagle Area (22-3) will take on Pine Grove (27-0) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field for the Class 3A championship.
“I’m just so proud,” Perry said. “This moment, it’ll still give me goosebumps in two weeks. It’s insane; this has been our goal all season.”