TURBOTVILLE - The ball hadn't even cleared the fence yet, but the outcome of Gabby Shrawder's seventh-inning hit on Tuesday was already determined.
Before the ball hit the ground beyond the left-center field fence, Southern Columbia head coach Al Cihocki spun 180 degrees in his spot next to the Tigers' dugout and fired his hat into the ground in foul territory. It was a frustration felt by the entire Southern Columbia team.
A game the Tigers led by two runs in the fifth inning ended in a 3-2 win for Warrior Run in a matchup of last year's state finalists. Shrawder hit a pair of home runs in the final three innings, including the walk-off blast with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Defenders undefeated and send Southern to its third league loss of the young season.
"I think I'm about 10 years older after that," Warrior Run head coach Garth Watson said.
The truth is, outside of two mistakes, Southern Columbia pitcher Mallory Tomaschik had the Defenders beat yesterday. The problem was, those two mistakes cost Tomaschik all three runs she surrendered. And all three runs came with two outs.
Tomaschik and Warrior Run pitcher Tay Parker matched each other pitch-for-pitch. Their pitching lines were nearly identical despite going about things very differently. Parker struggled with her command early, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 7 of the first 14 batters she faced. Tomaschik, though, didn't face more than four batters in an inning through the first four innings, and struck out the side in the fourth.
Two fateful swings from Shrawder, the Defenders' diminutive spark plug of a leadoff hitter, changed the course of the game. First it was her two-out, two-run home run to left-center in the fifth which injected all kinds of life into a Warrior Run team which had been pretty quiet thanks to Tomaschik's dominance. Then it was the walk-off blast which triggered a party near home plate.
"I was just trying to get on and try my best," Shrawder said. "We have a strong lineup one through nine and we have each other's backs."
"She's pretty small, so I never thought she could hit two home runs," Southern catcher Blair Johnston said. "We were feeling pretty good. I thought it was going to turn out different than it did."
For a team which has struggled during the first two weeks of the season - Southern blew an 8-0 lead to South Williamsport and lost 23-0 to Central Columbia - the Tigers followed the script perfectly to beat the Defenders and Parker. They got runners on base and in scoring position early in innings. Five of the Tigers' six hits were doubles.
The problem was Southern was just 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Both of those hits scored runs - doubles by Tomaschik and Erin Yoder - but it was never able to sustain a rally. Of Parker's 10 strikeouts, six came with runners in scoring position.
"They were choked up on the bat and bringing their hands through the zone and just putting it in play," Watson said. "(Parker) had good command of her pitches, but (Southern) was here to hit the ball."
"We have some people in there who aren't the best sticks," Cihocki said. "They play some nice defense and we have some speed and stuff like that, but there's just some kids who aren't real good fastball hitters."
Southern nearly manufactured a third run in the top of the seventh inning when pinch-hitter Kim Reigle doubled with one out and moved to third on a wild pitch. Leadoff hitter Kirstin Blass hit a medium deep fly ball to left field which Reigle tagged up on.
Warrior Run left fielder Katy Swartz made a perfect throw to Parker in the infield who made a perfect relay throw to catcher Lynn Vermilya. Vermilya was able to hang on to the ball for the third out of the inning. Nine pitches into the bottom of the inning, Shrawder hit her second homer to end the game.
"It was huge to at least give ourselves a chance to win," Watson said. "It was bang-bang. If (Vermilya) bobbles it, she's safe."
It was the kind of game with the kind of intensity you'd expect two teams who returned a combined 16 of 18 starters. Every pitch seemed to mean something and both teams played maybe their best game of the season.
For Southern, its third league loss puts it in a tough spot to contend for a title. But there's at least one, and potentially two more matchups with Warrior Run coming up this season to atone for yesterday's loss.
"I was just glad to see we hung in with them and had a chance to win the ballgame," Cihocki said. "A couple hits with some people on and we're winning. But that's a good team. That's how good teams beat you.
"Who would have thought the leadoff hitter would hit two home runs?"
Southern Col.010 010 0 - 2 6 2
Warrior Run000 020 1 - 3 7 0
Mallory Tomaschik and Blair Johnston. Tay Parker and Lynn Vermilya. W-Parker. L-Tomaschik.
Top Southern Columbia hitters: Kirstin Blass, 1-3, run; Tomaschik, 1-2, double, RBI; Kayla Lavella, 1-3, double; Blair Johnston, 1-2, double, run; Erin Yoder, 1-3, double, RBI; Kim Reigle, 1-1, double. Top Warrior Run hitters: Gabby Shrawder, 3-4, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 2 runs; Devin Nicholas, 1-3, double.
Runners in scoring position: Southern Columbia, 2-14; Warrior Run 1-6. Runners left on base-in scoring position: Southern Columbia 5-5; Warrior Run 5-4. Pitches-strikes: Warrior Run - Tay Parker, 102-72; Southern Columbia - Mallory Tomaschik, 105-74.
Records: Warrior Run (6-0, 6-0 HAC-II); Southern Columbia (4-3, 4-3 HAC-II).