As Bellefonte’s Stevie Confer stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the eighth inning, a familiar voice boomed out from the top of the hill in center field: “This is where you want to be.”
It was her great uncle, Ron Soltis, and he was right.
“He always does that,” she said. “He always tries to get me up (for the situation).”
The situation was this: the Lady Raiders and Central were knotted at 2-2, the bases were loaded and there was one out. Crunch time.
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Confer wasted no time in delivering, bunting the first pitch she saw up the third base line and a charging Liz Linn beat the throw to the plate with the game-winning run in a 3-2 Lady Raider win.
“There was nowhere I would rather have been,” said Confer, one of four seniors playing her final game on O’Leary Field. “Everyone on our team would like to be in that position. I was a little nervous, I just wanted to beat it out. I knew Liz would get home, I just knew she would get there.”
Lady Raider coach Fred Caldwell was counting on it.
“Stevie is an excellent bunter,” he said. “I just told her to try to get it past the charging players and she did a great job. Liz didn’t hesitate. That was a great job by two seniors.”
It took an equally great job on the base paths by winning pitcher Tara Baney to set up the game-ending drama. She drew a leadoff walk off Lexi Ritchey, prompting Central Coach Dale Walter to lift Ritchie and replace her with Brook Albright. Baney quickly stole second and Linn reached on an error. Baney then strayed off second and drew a throw from third baseman Olivia Smith that went into center field allowing Baney to score and Linn to move to third.
“That was a ninth grade error,” Walter said of his freshman third baseman. “I don’t know what she was thinking. Sometimes she tries to do too much while others don’t try to do enough. I told the girls the run on first didn’t mean anything. We needed to play for outs. If she scored it would just tie the game and we’d play another inning.’’
“Fred told me we needed to score and I was going to do everything in my power to get there (second base) without getting tagged,” Baney said. “And I didn’t want to get in a pickle between second and third. But it was one of those moments where we needed to put pressure on the defense.”
Central had taken the lead in the top of the eighth when Smith got aboard on an error that allowed her to reach second. She stole third and scored when the throw to third was high and went into left field.
“She’s my fastest runner,” Walter said. “We were hoping they would make a mistake. It was time to roll the dice.”
The Dragons scored without a hit to grab an early 1-0 lead as Cassi Mock drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a sacrifice and took third on an error on the play. She scored from there on a wild pitch.
Bellefonte tied it in the fourth as Linn reached on a throwing error that allowed her to reach second. She moved to third on a fly to center and scored when the throw to third bounced over Smith’s head allowing Linn to score. After that it was a pitching duel between Baney and Ritchie. Baney finished the day with a one-hitter, walking four and striking out six. The hit was a soft liner toward first by Darby Boyles in the fourth that fell just in front of a diving Sarah Menna. Ritchie allowed only three hits, two by Ang Capparelle.
“Tara threw well,” Walter said. “We were behind her the whole game. We couldn’t catch up to her. I thought Lexi (Ritchie) threw well too. But the difference between today and the last time we played them (an 11-0 Central win) was that Tara didn’t throw then.”
“I felt confident that I could throw hard,” Baney said. “I knew my defense had my back and that gave me confidence. I knew I just had to throw strikes.”
And while Baney was reluctant to rate it as one of her better games, Caldwell did it for her.
“Tara looked great,” he said. “That’s one of the better complete games she’s thrown. She had movement on the ball and she was hitting her spots with her fastball.”
The Lady Raiders finish out their season with games against Bald Eagle Area and DuBois, games which Caldwell figures will get his team playoff ready.
“We knew we had three really tough games at the end of the schedule,” he said. “They will give us some serious tests before the playoffs. But the thing I like about this team is that even though we’ve been behind a few times, these kids don’t quit. They want to play all seven innings.”
Or eight if they have to.