Nine games into this softball season State College was 2-7 and coach Mike Harper was searching for answers.
“I had six new starters and I didn’t realize how much inexperience would hurt us,” he said.
Then assistant coach Steve Shedlock made a suggestion.
“He said why don’t we just consider those first nine games the exhibition season and start over with an 0-0 record,” Harper remembered. “Since then we’re 10-1.”
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The Lady Little Lions got that 10th win Tuesday at windy Community Field when they took down cross-county rival Bald Eagle Area 6-3 to finish their regular season 12-8.
“We’re hot right now,” said Harper. “Our last five games we beat DuBois, Cumberland Valley, Mifflin County, Williamsport and BEA. That’s a murderer’s row at the end of the season. The girls should be confident and optimistic going into the playoffs.”
BEA, which will open defense of its District 6 Class AA title Thursday at home against Juniata, had an uncharacteristically shaky day on defense, committing two errors in the first inning that gave State a 2-1 lead.
The Lady Eagles struck quickly as Haley Giedroc opened the game with a double down the left field line, stole third and scored on a wild pitch by winning pitcher Jess Henderson.
State College countered that run in the bottom of the inning when Kayla Hawbaker drew a lead-off walk, stole second and scored when the throw on Abby Allen’s sacrifice bunt attempt hit her in the back. Two outs later, Henderson drew a walk and courtesy runner Karli Nolan scored when Brenna Adams’ fly ball to center was mishandled.
In the second, the Lady Little Lions added a run when Hawbaker homered to dead center and they added two more runs in the fourth when Hawbaker, who scored three runs in the game, reached on an error, stole second and third and scored on a single by Allen, who later scored on Henderson’s infield out.
BEA fought back with a pair of runs in the fifth when Morgan Nyman singled, took third on Morgan Peters’ ground rule double, which rolled over the bank in right field. Peters took third on a wild pitch and scored when Makenzie Proctor singled, chasing Henderson with one out and a runner on third. Hannah Shields hit Giedroc and a wild pitch put her at second, but Shields struck out Moreta Dyke to end the inning.
State College got its last run in the fifth when Shields tripled to straightaway center and scored on a wild pitch.
The Lady Eagles made one last run, getting runners on second and third with one out when Marissa Tobias reached on an error and Logan Fischer singled. Pinch runner Brylie Hockenberry stole second. Olivia Andrews then grounded out and when Tobias feinted toward home, Hockenberry took off for third and got trapped in a rundown for an inning-ending double play.
State College also turned a double play in the seventh after Peters’ leadoff single.
“Our defense has been unbelievable and that’s a credit to Jim Schaper, our defensive coach,” Harper said. “If we don’t get that double play (in the sixth inning) and those two girls score, who knows what might have happened. They could have had a big inning there.”
Neither team was especially sharp, with BEA committing four errors and State throwing two wild pitches, one of which allowed a run to score. The Lady Little Lions also stranded six baserunners, including three in the third inning.
“I thought the game was a little sloppy on both sides,” Harper said. “We had wild pitches and passed balls and you can’t do that against quality teams. And we left way too many runners on base. Against good teams you have to make hay when you have a chance, getting those runs in when you have no outs, one out.”
Henderson got the win, striking out eight and allowing four hits. Shields allowed two hits and notched a strikeout in relief. BEA’s Sidney Shultz allowed six hits, walked two and struck out two.
“We did well against their pitcher,” said BEA coach Curt Heverly. “We hit the ball better today. We wanted to hit the ball and put pressure on them. But those two errors in the first inning really hurt us.”
The game was the first between the two rivals in several years and both coaches were glad to see it resumed.
“I like playing them,” said Heverly, whose team owes two of its four losses to Quad-A teams Williamsport and State College. “It can’t do anything but help us.”
“I like playing the Bald Eagles, Bellefontes, Penns Valleys and P-Os,” said Harper said. “Those are good programs with a lot of tradition. And they help us get ready for the playoffs. Plus, these games are great for the fans.”