Moving the best pitcher out of the circle helped Williamsport produce its best offensive performance this season. And if the two-time defending District 2-4 Class AAAA champions achieve postseason success what they did this weekend at Elm Park might be viewed as a huge turning point.
All-state pitcher Alexis Bower started both of Saturday's Williamsport Tournament games at shortstop instead of in the circle. Knowing their security blanket was not there, the Millionaires erupted, scoring 19 runs and delivering 23 hits in two wins. Williamsport overcame two three-run deficits and defeated Mifflinburg, 9-6, to capture the championship.
It was a huge breakout performance by an offense that has been dormant much of the season and could signal big things as the young Millionaires (10-2) continue jelling.
"It was two-fold with these young pitchers in both games. We needed to get them experience, but we really used it as motivation for the offense to step up," Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. "When we have a pitcher that can go out and shut other teams out these youngsters sometimes don't feel an urgency to score runs and get a little lackadaisical at times thinking they don't have to score runs. They came back twice (Saturday) and that was good to see."
Loyalsock split two consolation games, routing Archbishop Wood, 22-4, and dropping a 10-inning, 5-4, heartbreaker to Conwell Egan.
If Williamsport takes the approach it did without Bower pitching, it could be especially tough to beat when she is pitching. Mikayla Bower earned the win in a 10-0 semifinal victory over Pittsfield Sunderland before Taylor Brooks kept Williamsport within striking distance through three innings against Mifflinburg. Alexis Bower finished both games, winning the championship in relief and striking out 16 in 5 2/3 innings without allowing a hit.
Combine that pitching with the hitting generated and Williamsport has a potent combination. Every starter delivered at least one hit in both games and 10 players reached base against Mifflinburg (12-3). The Millionaires scored six fourth-inning runs against Mifflinburg, turning a three-run deficit into a 9-6 lead.
"We did awesome hitting. I hope it does carry on for the rest of the season because we need the hits, we need to score," Alexis Bower said. "Everyone on this team is a great hitter. We've been working different things at practice to help us with our swings and everyone has been doing a great job adjusting to different speeds and that's what we need to work on from here."
Williamsport produced four consecutive run-scoring hits during the fourth-inning rally, starting when Kaitlin Caringi (2 for 4, two RBIs) crushed an RBI double to deep left field. Alexis Bower then hit an infield single, setting the stage for sister Mikayla who drilled a two-run double to left field and put Williamsport ahead to stay.
"I started out the season pretty decent but slowed down lately and haven't been hitting as well as I hoped," Mikayla Bower said. "(Saturday) I was coming in and saying, 'I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to go out and do my thing.'"
That approach was shared by all her teammates and it showed. Williamsport hitters appeared relaxed no matter the situation in both games. Samantha Fischer (five tournament hits, five RBIs) followed Bower with an RBI single, and after Brooks singled, scored the final run on an error. Williamsport had 10 hits through four innings and produced four during a three-run second inning that erased a 3-0 Mifflinburg lead.
Freshman Kalia Moore ignited the rally, belting a two-run triple and Caringi followed with an RBI single. Moore, a freshman, went 4 for 6 in the two wins while fellow freshman McKenzie Tebbs went 2 for 3 in the final. Freshman Shataya Buxton ended the Pittsfield game, hitting a walk-off, three-run double to deep center field.
"For a while our freshmen were pressing and getting nervous and now they're all starting to settle in and they came up with some big hits this weekend," said Mikayla Bower, who threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings against Pittsfield. "As a team we all work really well together and we really feed off each other and what we're doing."
The three-run lead looked more like 30 after Alexis Bower started pitching in the fourth. The senior struck out the first 11 batters she faced and only a game-ending popout prevented her from striking out all 12 against a team that beat Delaware Valley, 8-5, two hours earlier. She did not allow a hit in either game and threw 27 scoreless innings while allowing just three hits last week.
What helped yesterday was Mikayla Bower and Brooks throwing seven innings. That kept Alexis Bower fresh following a one-hit shutout against Loyalsock on Friday.
"I was mentally more exhausted than physically after Friday's game so it's a lot to put on you. Not having to pitch a few innings (Saturday) helped a lot. It helped take some stress off and helped with the arm and everything," Alexis Bower said. "The younger kids stepped up great this weekend. They both threw awesome. Coming in I just know I have to help them out and help the whole team out. Whenever I go in I have to go out and do my job."
The Loyalsock offense did its job against Archbishop Wood, pounding out 17 hits and scoring 22 runs in the last five innings. Amanda Daneker finished a single shy of hitting for the cycle, going 4 for 5 with a home run and career-high seven RBIs and four runs while winning pitcher Ashleigh Bair went 4 for 6 with a home run, six runs and six RBIs. Allie Pagana added four hits, scored four runs and had five RBIs.
The Lancers nearly beat Class AAAA Conwell Egan in the fifth-place game, taking two two-run leads in extra innings but losing on a two-out, walk-off single. Daneker threw seven shutout innings while Kay Kay Lupo had two hits. Center fielder Ally Kennedy made a sensational, game-saving catch in the ninth inning before hitting a go-ahead, two-out, two-run single in the 10th.
"Loyalsock can hit the ball," Quint Bower said. "They are well-coached, disciplined and just a good overall softball team."
Williamsport 9, Mifflinburg 6
Mifflinburg213 000 0-6 8 3
Williamsport030 600 x-9 12 1
Sara Stauffer, Chelsea Mitchell (4) and Kelcie Cobb. Taylor Brooks, Alexis Bower (4) and McKenzie Tebbs. W-Bower, (9-2). L-Stauffer.
Top Mifflinburg hitters: Stauffer 1-2, 2 R; Mackenzie Kyler 2-3, 3B, 2 RBI; Margaret Wiand 2-3, 3B, 2 RBI. Top Williamsport hitters: Kalia Moore 1-3, 3B, 2 RBI; Kaitlin Caringi 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; A. Bower 3-4, 3B, RBI; Mikayla Bower 1-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Tebbs 2-3; Chloe Jennings 1-1.
Records: Williamsport 10-2. Mifflinburg 12-3.
Williamsport 10, Pittsfield Sunderland 0, 6 innings
Pittsfield000 000-0 4 1
Williamsport310 006-10 11 1
Marissa O'Leary, Brynn Filsinger (6) and Alina Santiago. M. Bower, A. Bower (5) and Shataya Buxton. W-M. Bower, (1-0). L-O'Leary.
Top Pittsfield hitters: Morgan Schilo 1-2, 3B. Top Williamsport hitters: Moore 3-3, BB, R; Samantha Fischer 2-4, 2 RBI; M. Bower 1-2, RBI; Buxton 1-3, 3-run 2B; Brooks 2-3, R.
Loyalsock 22, Archbishop Wood 4
Loyalsock003 540 (10)-22 17 4
Wood011 020 0-4 9 7
Loft, Messner (5) and Cook. Ashleigh Bair and Amanda Daneker. W-Bair, (2-0). L-Loft.
Top Wood hitters: Collier 2-4, 2 2Bs, RBI. Top Loyalsock hitters: Allie Pagana 4-6, 2B, 5 R, 4 RBI; Bair 4-6, HR, 6 RBI, 4 R; Daneker 4-5, HR, 3B, 2B, 7 RBI, 4 R; Kendall Watkins 2-5, 2B; Natalie Zicorello 1-4, 2 RBI, 2 R.
Conwell Egan 5, Loyalsock 4, 10 innings
Loyalsock000 000 022-4 5 0
C. Egan000 000 023-5 11 0
Daneker, Kayla Gee (8) and Allison Czap, Daneker (8). Massaro and Milburn. W-Massaro. L-Gee, (7-3).
Top Loyalsock hitters: Daneker 1-5, 2B; Watkins 1-5, 3B, R; Gee 2 R; Kay Kay Lupo 2-3; Ally Kennedy 1-2, 2 RBI. Top Egan hitters: Strickner 1-5, 3B, 2 R; Massaro 2-5, 2B; Milburn 3-5, 2B.
Records: Loyalsock 11-3.