By her coach’s estimate, Caroline Showalter took 1,000 swings in the days leading up to Wednesday’s District 6 Class AAA championship game.
As it turns out, it was time well spent as the Bellwood-Antis right fielder cracked a three-run double to lift the Lady Blue Devils to a 5-1 win over Bellefonte and justify coach Jim Payne’s decision to move his team from the crowded Class A field where it belongs by enrollment to Class AAA .
“I think there were more doubters than people who believed we made the right move,” Payne said after the win. “We knew we had to beat Hollidaysburg and Bellefonte. There were a lot of people wearing blue who thought we made a mistake.’’
He can thank Showalter, who bats eighth in the order, for proving the doubters wrong and for the trophy that will go alongside the Class A title Bellwood-Antis won in 2012.
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She came up in he sixth inning with the score tied at 1 with the bases loaded and one out. The Lady Blue Devils had stranded runners in scoring position in the first, third and fifth innings, wasting chances to break through against Bellefonte’s Tara Baney. Showalter didn’t let this opportunity go by, lining a shot into the left-center gap to drive in Edyn Convery, who had walked, Laycee Clark, who had singled and Saige McElwain, who had reached on a fielder’s choice.
“I thought it was going to the fence,” Showalter said of her game-winning hit. “I felt like I hit it good. We had practiced hitting against the curve and Jim (Payne) said just hit it up the middle. I just wanted to make contact.. It was just another position to be in. I’ve been in that position a number of times. I just had to step up.”
She had been hitless in her two previous at-bats against Baney before stepping into the batter’s box in the sixth.
“She bats eighth for a reason,” Payne said. “But she just came through with the biggest hit of her life.’’
The Lady Blue Devils showed they were not intimidated by moving up to the AAA field, scoring in the first when Wolfe led off with a single, took second on a sacrifice by Taylor Shildt and scoring on Jackie Finn’s double to right-center. Finn moved to third on a passed ball and Maddie Miller walked before Baney got Convery to fly out to right and struck out Clark to kill the rally.
The Lady Raiders answered in the second when Liz Linn was hit in the helmet, stole second and scored on Lexi Wetzler’s double to the wall in left-center. Jordan Rockey singled, moving Wetzler to third with one out. A passed ball put Rockey at second but Shildt bore down and struck out Stevie Confer and Jess Fishburn to get out of further trouble.
From that point on Shildt retired 15 of the last 16 batters she faced.
“We couldn’t get the hits when we needed them,” said Bellefonte coach Fred Caldwell. “Hats off to Bellwood. We just couldn’t get enough base runners.”
At the same time, Bellwood-Antis was persistently threatening, stranding runners at secnd and third in the third and one at third in the fifth to go along with the two left on base in the first.
“In five of our six losses, we lost the game in the seventh inning when we could not come up with a clutch hit,” Payne said. “We were hoping that didn’t come up and bite us again.”
Caldwell said his team was not feeling overconfident because it was playing a smaller school.
“We talked about them moving up,” he said. “But we went over their stats and they had some good ones. We didn’t overlook them.
“I thought our defense played well,but you can only put yourself in that position (with runners in scoring position) so many times before they score.”
The Lady Blue Devils clearly weren’t going to be bullied by a bigger team.
“When he (Payne) told us we were moving up right before the season started we just felt like it was just another tournament we had to win,” Showalter said.
And thanks to her they did, making it the first time since 1992 that no Centre County team claimed a district softball crown and only the third time that’s happened since 1976, when the playoffs began.