For most of her high school softball career, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Carly Gonder has used to setting the table.
In Thursday’s District 6 Class AA semifinal game, she cleared it.
Gonder smashed two hits, including a home run, and drove in three runs as the top-seeded Lady Mounties advanced to the title game with a 5-2 triumph over Bellwood-Antis. The win also clinched a PIAA berth for P-O (20-1), which will face Ligonier Valley, a 4-3 winner over Huntingdon, in the district title game May 29 at Penn State.
Since her sophomore season, Gonder had entrenched herself as the Lady Mounties’ leadoff hitter, helping them to a PIAA title in 2011.
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But this season, she started in a slump and coach Jim Gonder decided to move his niece down to No. 7 in the order.
“She’s the kind of kid that puts a lot of pressure on herself,” Jim Gonder said. “She wants to be successful. She’s a very bright kid and hard worker.
“My decision was, ‘Let’s take some of the pressure off you. You’re in the seventh slot. You’ll see better pitches.’ It’s actually a good spot for her.”
Carly Gonder admits the change was tough.
“I miss my leadoff spot,” the senior catcher said. “I led off for two years, but I can’t let that bring me down. I know he has the best for me and the best for the team in his interest. That’s all I want, too. ... We have No. 4 hitters at No. 1 through No. 9. It doesn’t really matter where any of us are.”
Since moving to the No. 7 spot, Carly Gonder has started hitting, piling up hits in bunches. She said the difference is not where she’s in the order.
“I was just in a slump and you don’t see the ball when you’re in a slump the same as you do when you’re hitting,” she said. “I know as an athlete that you come out of it. You just have to work though it. Hopefully going into playoffs, that’s when I’m coming out the strongest.”
She certainly was strong in two clutch situations Thursday.
With the Lady Mounties leading 2-0, Gonder came up with runners at second and third and two outs. On an 0-2 pitch from Bellwood-Antis’ Taylor Payne, Gonder roped a single down the third base line to plate two runs.
Bellwood rallied for two runs in the sixth to make it 4-2, but Gonder pushed the margin back to three, taking a 1-2 pitch just over the left-center field fence for a home run.
“I don’t hit those very often, so it feels good to do it,” she said of her second longball of the season.
Shortstop Abby Showers got the Lady Mounties off to a rousing start in the contest that pitted the three-time defending District 6 Class AA champions against the Lady Blue Devils (20-3), the Class A champs from last season.
In the top of the second, Lauren Snyder led off with a single and Payne followed with a walk. Kelsey Decker initially couldn’t get down a bunt and then sent a slow roller toward the second base back that Showers gobbled up and turned into a double play. Kate Burge then got out of the inning with groundout.
“We’ve been practicing if the ball was to the left of me to take it myself and go to second because its quicker to get a double play,” Showers said. “We love to turn double plays. We strive for it. I saw it was there. I took the opportunity and it happened.”
She also made things happen in her first at-bat. On a 1-1 offering from Payne, she launched a shot over the fence in right-center field for her second consecutive playoff game with a homer.
Showers credited the scouting report and was looking for the curve she got from Payne. “’I’m like, Hey, just like the scouting report,” she said of the first two pitches in her at-bat. “’Watch the spin,’” she said. “I watched the spin and saw it was going outside. I kind of went with the pitch and it just went flying.”
The Lady Mounties broke out their short game in the next inning. After Megan Bainey belted a double to the fence. Alyssa Shedlock bunted her to third and Bainey scored on Haley Frank’s perfect suicide squeeze bunt on a 1-1 count.
Burge cruised along until the sixth. Anna Wolfe, Emily Nagle and Jacqueline lead off with consecutive singles to end the shutout. After a strikeout, Payne lined a shot to center that went off Bainey’s glove for a two-base error to make the score 4-2.
With the tying runs in scoring position, Burge got tough. She whiffed Decker and Laycee Clark to get out of the jam.
“We didn’t execute the way we typically do,” Bellewood-Antis coach Jim Payne said. “We had our options with some second and third with one out and had back-to-back strikeouts. I don’t think that’s happened all year.”
Burge scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out four.
“She gets juiced up,” Jim Gonder said of Burge, who improved to 17-0 on the season. “Obviously, it was a big game. She needs to calm down a little bit because she did get a little juiced up, but I thought she threw a great ballgame.”
Taylor Payne also threw well, allowing just five hits (two each by Showers and Gonder). Two of the runs against the Lady Blue Devil senior, who is headed to Edinboro, were unearned.
“I thought she threw well,” Jim Payne said. “We gave them a lot of extra outs that they took advantage of.”
Philipsburg-Osceola played solid defense. Aisha Goss’ diving catch in left field and Showers’ play at short highlighted the contest, which ended just before raindrops started falling.
“This was a big game,” Gonder said. “We had hopes of winning another district title on the line and hopes of getting into the (PIAA) playoffs. We accomplished both today.”