With one out and the bases loaded in the seventh inning and State College clinging to a one-run lead on Senior Day, the fate of the Lady Little Lions rested on the right arm of sophomore pitcher Karli Nolan.
Central Dauphin East started the inning with back-to-back hits and when the Panthers’ slugger Jayla Allen stepped to the plate, State College head coach Rick Hall issued a free pass, putting the pressure on his young hurler.
Nolan came through, giving the Lady Little Lions a 7-6 victory on Wednesday at Community Field.
“I was just thinking, do whatever I can just to get this girl out,” Nolan, who earned her first varsity win, said with a smile and a sigh.
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“It’s definitely a relief and (now) I can finally breathe again.”
What began as a game the Lady Little Lions’ seniors seized control of early, ended as a nail-biting, one-run game closed out by an underclassman.
The senior day celebration wasn’t the team’s last home game, but with inclement weather causing cancellations, Hall said the team’s booster club decided to capitalize on the quality forecast.
After CD East struck with a run in the first, State College tied the game in the second and then broke it open with four in the third.
Sharaya Simco (1-for-1) started the rally with a one-out walk. After a Panther error, senior Michaela Francis (2-for-4, three RBIs) singled home Megan Robert who reached on the miscue.
A batter later, another error in the Panthers’ infield allowed senior Sarah Flick (3-for-4, two runs) to reach.
Then fellow senior Hope Guthoff (2-for-3, RBI) hit a blooper to left scoring Flick just before Hannah Sefter (2-for-4, two RBIs) broke it open with a two-RBI single to center.
State College (7-5) took a 5-2 lead and appeared to stagger the Panthers’ confidence.
Most of the CDE players walked to the dugout with heads down and faces long after the inning ended.
Nolan (1-1), who went the distance allowing six runs, ten hits and four strikeouts, pitched a 1-2-3 fourth. State College then got two more runs in the fourth and the route appeared on.
However, the Panthers (7-8) would respond.
“Like they’ve been doing all year, they never gave up,” said head coach Mike Strepp.
CDE took advantage of a few Lion miscues in the field and netted four runs in the fifth before State College even registered an out. Nolan’s defense would eventually help her out of the jam, keeping the Lions one-run lead intact.
“Whenever you get into trouble you always have to count on the people behind you,” Nolan said. “A pitcher is only as good as the rest of the team and you really just have to count on the eight people behind you.”
Nolan’s poised performance came at a critical time with Jess Henderson and Laura Harris, State College’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters, out with injuries.
Flick said Nolan has pitched well in tough spots this season so the team had faith.
“To be honest, I had a lot of confidence in Karli,” Flick said. “Every game she’s pitched we’ve done really well … she hits all her spots, so I wasn’t worried about the pitching at all …”
The team’s confidence may have been tested, however, when Kendra Shay singled to open the seventh. Then Kylee Fox flicked a double to left, leaving runners at the corners with Allen on deck.
Allen, a left-handed slugger, crushed a single earlier and was subsequently in later at bats.
Hall didn’t take any chances. He walked her again, loading the bases and giving his defense an out at any base. Then, with just one out, he called time and met his team, and his pitcher, on the mound.
“When I walked out there in the last inning I said ‘you have to play with some swagger now,’” Hall recalled. “You have to believe you can win this.”
With the infield in slightly, Sheily Aponte smacked a grounder to third that Simco handled deftly and tossed home for the force.
Antonice Mason was the last hope for CDE until Nolan induced a pop fly to Cory Marfitt at short to end the game.
Hall appreciated his young pitchers demeanor on the mound.
“My No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers were down with injuries,” Hall said with a smile. “So I had no one else to go to and she knew that.”
“So I give her a lot of credit. She hung in there. She had a smile on her face when she went out for that last inning. She had a smile on her face when I called a timeout and walked out there and said ‘hey, get your first varsity win.’ And she did and that’s a credit to the kid.”
Nolan, breathing a sigh of relief after the game, just seemed relieved to get her seniors the win.
“It’s a really incredible feeling because my seniors were counting on me to pitch a great game and I hope I made it a great game for them to remember on their senior day.”