BEA softball awarded PIAA runner-up trophy
Kaleigh Kinley, Bald Eagle Area softball’s lone senior, cradled the PIAA runner-up trophy as her eyes welled with tears. As she hugged her coaches and teammates, the BEA faithful offered a loud applause in a moment of disappointment.
Through five innings of Friday’s Class 3A title game, it may not have been the trophy the Lady Eagles deserved. But Pine Grove — a team that entered with an unbeaten record averaging 13.2 runs per game — broke out in the sixth frame, seizing momentum at Penn State’s Beard Field and effectively ending BEA’s season.
The Lady Eagles lost 7-3 on Friday afternoon, closing a campaign that featured a 22-4 record, a shared Mountain League title and an outright District 6 championship. Head coach Don Lucas said, “I refuse to define our season by this loss.” And his players echoed that sentiment.
“I never would have thought that I’d end my career playing at Penn State for the state championship,” Kinley said before pausing to collect herself. “To be here is such an accomplishment. It didn’t work out how we wanted it to. But it’s still a great season. We need to keep our heads up and keep going.”
Added freshman shortstop Maddie Perry: “I’m not going to hang my head, and I hope nobody on the team hangs their head. Everyone knows we wanted the gold, but we did all we could.”
For a while, “all we could” appeared to be enough to hoist the championship trophy.
BEA took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth thanks to a three-run third inning. Down 1-0, sophomore Madison Eckley tied the game from third when classmate Mara Hockenberry, delaying a steal from first, baited the Pine Grove catcher into a throw, which went awry. Maralee Caldana scored Hockenberry on the following at-bat with a single into left, and Madison Peters plated Caldana with a double to the left-field wall.
With a 3-1 cushion, Kinley said the Lady Eagles were “really excited.” And they had reason to be.
BEA provided a few runs of support for Peters, who was cruising through a batting order that plated 40 runs in its previous three PIAA games. Peters — the Lady Eagles’ star sophomore who boasted a 1.61 ERA entering the state playoffs — showed off that form, scattering three hits, striking out two and inducing seven groundball outs in the opening four innings.
But with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth frames, BEA’s batting order couldn’t capitalize. It couldn’t provide Peters with further support.
“I think we got too comfortable,” Kinley said. “We didn’t continue to push.”
Added Peters: “We went dead.” And Pine Grove pounced, adding one run in the fifth and exploding in the sixth.
What started with a bloop single into right field turned into a five-run, game-changing frame. In the sixth inning, the Lady Cardinals had five hits, including triples by Olivia Lehman and Megan Wolfe. A passed ball and later a throwing error by Peters perpetuated the frustrations of the inning.
Down 7-3, the Lady Eagles finally got out of the frame and had to quickly regroup in the dugout. The top of the seventh — BEA’s last chance to knot things up and continue its season — was upon them. But as Perry put it, the Lady Eagles were “deflated.”
“There were already tears in the dugout,” Perry added. “We definitely had hope still. We were at a good spot in the lineup.”
But the Lady Eagles couldn’t string together a comeback in the seventh. Hockenberry grounded out, Caldana flew out in foul ground thanks to a diving catch, Peters reached first on an error, and Maegan King — BEA’s hero in its District 6 semifinal win over Philipsburg-Osceola — went down swinging to set off Pine Grove celebrations.
As the Lady Cardinals threw their gloves in the air and jumped up and down, BEA lined up on the third-base line, waiting for the postgame handshake, some looking to the sky, shaking their heads.
Two weeks ago, when the Lady Eagles defeated Chestnut Ridge for the District 6 title at St. Francis, every player hugged Don Lucas as they accepted their medals. On Friday afternoon at Beard Field, they did the same — but tears substituted smiles.
Grief consumed BEA in those final moments on Beard Field. But just a few minutes after the trophy ceremony, the Lady Eagles offered perspective — both on the season they had and what is to come.
“We had a heck of a year,” Lucas said, cracking a smile. “A lot of teams wished to be in our position. We won a lot of tight games against a lot of good teams. We ran into a buzz saw here, but I think we played them as tough as anybody did. ... Our gals did everything they could. I’m sure proud of them.”
Added Kinley, the lone senior: “I’m proud of how hard we worked. ... I can’t wait to come back next year and see them kill it.”