JERSEY SHORE - As soon as right fielder Kirstyn Harstead squeezed the ball and recorded the final out, first baseman Brianne Brewer leapt into pitcher Arika Stopper's arms.
Jersey Shore did not win a championship Monday but there definitely was reason to celebrate. The Bulldogs had just defeated a reigning Class AAAA state quarterfinalist and made a big statement about how good they are. In a showdown of defending district champions, Jersey Shore reigned supreme.
Stopper pitched a six-hit shutout, Kayla Allen went 3 for 3 and Courtney Smith delivered a huge two-run, pinch-hit single as Jersey Shore blanked previously undefeated Williamsport, 4-0. The Bulldogs (9-1) led from the first inning on and snapped Williamsport's 20-game regular-season winning streak.
"We feel like we can beat anybody now. They're a quality team and so are we and it was just a toss-up, basically," Stopper said. "We hated being below them in the newspaper (rankings) so we wanted to prove ourselves and tonight we were the better team."
"The girls had a little extra fire to beat them," Jersey Shore coach Chris Glenn said. "They really wanted to win this game and our practice on Friday was excellent. I couldn't ask anything more from them."
Stopper immediately showed Jersey Shore was unfazed by Williamsport's undefeated record, retiring two straight in the top of the first with the bases loaded. Instead of the Millionaires (11-1) taking a multiple-run lead, Jersey Shore could stick with its game plan and started playing excellent small-ball when it came to bat.
Allen, a switch hitter, led off with a bunt single before Hannah Yost walked and Stopper sacrificed both up a base. Kierstin Kemmerer drew a walk and Allen came sprinting home on a passed ball. Millionaire all-state ace Alexis Bower did not allow a run in 19 innings at last weekend's Williamsport Tournament so manufacturing a run off her right away was a huge morale boost.
"At first we were really nervous but we got our jitters out and our confidence definitely went up," Allen said. "I knew they were going to have me go left-handed but I didn't know they were going to have me bunt. I was really nervous because she's a good pitcher but I did what I had to do to help my team."
Allen helped her team every time she batted and her talent and speed proved crucial. Allen was involved in the three Jersey Shore rallies that produced runs and she made it 2-0 an inning later, belting a RBI single off the third-base bag that scored Paige Packer. That at-bat was indicative of what made Jersey Shore successful against one of the state's best pitchers as Allen worked a 10-pitch at-bat.
Even when Bower was retiring hitters, they often were fouling off multiple two-strike pitches and making her pitch count rise two days after throwing 202 pitches in two tournament wins. Following Rebecca Caputo's two-out fourth-inning infield single, Allen worked a six-pitch at-bat and used her speed to leg out an infield single.
That set the stage for Smith. The junior pinch-hitter fell behind 1-2 but also fouled off a two-strike pitch, took another ball and then slammed a two-run single into center field, making it 4-0. And the way Stopper was cruising, that lead looked more like 14-0 at that point.
"We know that whoever is in there they will do well and help our teammates out," Allen said. "We weren't nervous anymore after we had the lead and we knew we could do it so we just kept hitting the ball."
Williamsport lost for the first time since last year's state quarterfinals and also suffered a potentially serious blow when standout freshman sophomore Mikayla Bower appeared to suffer a serious knee injury while landing awkwardly after swinging in the sixth inning. The Millionaires dismantled three opponents at last weekend's tournament and produced six hits, but Stopper consistently pitched great in tight situations.
Brooke Pompeo went 2 for 4, Alexis Bower recorded nine strikeouts and Mikayla Bower made a spectacular fifth-inning diving catch. It was not enough Monday, but Williamsport also understands this loss does not stop it from pursuing its long-term goals.
"I'm disappointed in the loss, we lost to a good team but if we can take something away from it and build on it it's going to make us tougher down the road," Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. "We just couldn't come up with the big hit and Arika Stopper pitched a tremendous game."
Stopper almost always does that in big games. The senior threw consecutive shutouts en route to the District 4 Class AAA championship last year and kept Williamsport off-balance the entire afternoon. Stopper spotted her pitches well, moved the ball well and struck out five while keeping Williamsport hitless from the second through fifth innings.
Williamsport threatened in the sixth when Tiana McCormick hit a lead-off single and Alexis Bower reached on an error. Dominique Thomas then ripped a liner that likely would have been a two-run double, but third baseman Holly Peacock made a terrific catch to rob her. Stopper then retired the next two hitters before stranding two more baserunners in the seventh.
"All of them got on me at the beginning of the game and said I had to pitch as well as I ever have," Stopper said. "They told me I had to step it up so I did and they helped me. I'm so proud of my defense."
Jersey Shore has little time to savor the big win since it hosts Milton today in a rematch of the last two district championships. Both are tied for first in the HAC-I and Jersey Shore won the first game 4-3 in eight innings.
Williamsport000 000 0-0 6 2
Jersey Shore110 200 x-4 5 2
Alexis Bower and Heather Inners. Arika Stopper and Rebecca Caputo. WP-Stopper (8-1). LP-Bower (11-1).
Top Williamsport hitters: Brooke Pompeo 2-4; Bower 1-3, 2B. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Kayla Allen 3-3, RBI, 2 R; Courtney Smith 1-1, 2 RBIs; Rebecca Caputo 1-2, R.
Records: Jersey Shore 9-1. Williamsport 11-1.3