In the game’s first at-bat, Central’s Olivia Smith took a healthy cut at the softball, but swung and missed, doing a half-twirl.
She looked down to her third base coach, and took a breath.
Bellefonte’s Tara Baney, like she has all year, was throwing heat from the circle.
The junior pitcher struck out Smith, and really cruised through hitter after hitter.
But she needed some help.
Unfortunately for Baney and her teammates, the Lady Red Raiders were blanked. Bellefonte (5-1) is perfect no more after a 2-0 defeat to Central, the defending District 6 Class AA champions, at O’Leary Field on Thursday afternoon.
After five consecutive shutouts to open the 2016 campaign, the Lady Dragons’ two runs were the first allowed by Bellefonte all season.
“It’s nice having scoreless games,” Baney said. “But you know ... not every game is going to be a 10-0, 8-0 game.”
The Lady Red Raiders have had quite a few of those this year. In their first five games, they combined to outscore opponents 38-0, averaging 7.6 runs per contest.
That wasn’t remotely the case against Central.
Bellefonte had only six hits against the Lady Dragons — and three of them came from Baney.
She was 3 for 3 with two singles, a double and a walk, and was even more impressive with the ball in her hands.
Baney tossed all seven innings, recording six strikeouts, inducing 12 ground ball outs, and allowing only one earned run and four hits.
It’s a continuance of Baney’s dominance so far this season, after she threw a one-hitter on Tuesday and a no-hitter on March 31.
Bellefonte coach Fred Caldwell said Baney focused on throwing rise and screwballs against Central, moving pitches inside to avoid heavy hitters.
“She did a great job,” Caldwell said. “She’s hitting her spots and throwing hard.”
And the Lady Dragons understood what they were getting into, too.
“We knew coming in that she’d be the best pitcher we face all year,” Central coach Dale Walters said of Baney.
But Walters’ players did what he and his coaching staff instructed — choke up on the bat and just try to put it in play.
A simple, yet effective, plan.
In the top of the fifth inning, Central’s Jenna Berzansky reached first base and was awarded second on an overthrow. The Lady Dragons’ Madi Kreider entered as a courtesy runner, and later scored on a pair of infield groundouts.
Central tacked on an insurance run in the sixth. Smith reached first on a bunt single, advanced to third on a throwing error on the following at-bat, and later scored on a grounder.
It wasn’t a lot, but two runs were enough cushion for the Lady Dragons.
Central starting pitcher Dylan Claycomb went the distance, and shut down a Bellefonte offense that hasn’t been silenced all season.
Caldwell was slightly concerned, considering his team had recently faced slower pitching and had to adjust to Claycomb’s heat.
“Today is the first day we haven’t had really good at-bats,” Caldwell said. “Hopefully after one time through you catch on. Today we didn’t do it.”
Nevertheless, Bellefonte has time to recuperate — and hit the cages — after playing three consecutive days.
The Lady Red Raiders’ next game is a rivalry game, at Bald Eagle Area on Tuesday.