TURBOTVILLE - The tying runner sprinting toward her, Loyalsock first baseman Allison Czap adjusted herself, reached up, caught the ball and simultaneously kept her foot on the bag. That play clinched a championship.
The constant practice, the hard work since March, the being ready for every situation and making difficult plays look routine produced that championship.
Czap smashed a two-run, third-inning home run Thursday, Kayla Gee constantly worked out of jams while throwing a gutty seven-hitter and third baseman Kendall Watkins made a tremendous seventh-inning play as Loyalsock captured its first HAC-II championship and first league title since 2008, defeating defending champion Warrior Run 3-1. The Lancers (15-4, 12-2) became the first team to win on the 2012 Class AA state finalist's field in two years, completed a season sweep and played a strong all-around game in a winner-take-all showdown.
"They deserve everything they've accomplished to this point because they've worked as hard as any group I've ever been with," said Loyalsock coach and former major leaguer Tom O'Malley. "They are close-knit and they come to practice and come to games ready to play every day. They make my job easy."
"I didn't expect this at first but as we came together and started winning games I knew we could do it," Czap said. "This was one of our goals and it feels really good achieving it."
Loyalsock won 10 of its last 11 league games to win the fiercely contested league that includes five playoff teams. The four previous HAC-II champions have either went on to capture the District 4 crown and/or reach the state semifinals. That includes Warrior Run which Loyalsock has outscored by five runs in two games while being the only team the last two seasons to beat the Defenders by more than one run.
It has been an impressive run by a team that features only two seniors, second baseman Ashleigh Bair and catcher Amanda Daneker, and that starts two freshmen, Gee and Watkins. Experienced and young, everything and everyone has come together just a year after Loyalsock finished 11-11.
"(Wednesday) we got together and said we really want this," Watkins said. "All the girls are really close and we play for each other."
The game started in a steady rain and pitching dominated early, but Czap changed everything with one swing. Two batters after Bair walked, Czap fell behind 0-2 and Parker was a strike away from ending the inning. Czap fouled off a pitch and took a ball before slamming the next pitch well over the center-field fence and giving Loyalsock a 2-0 lead.
Bair pumped her first while rounding second, sensing how pivotal Czap's home run was. Czap (2 for 3) also homered at Warrior Run last year, but this is the one she might remember forever.
"I was really happy and it was deja vu after hitting one here last year. It was really exciting to give the team that lead," Czap said. "I was expecting an inside pitch because the last two were outside but it was right down the middle where I like them and I just stuck my bat out and it went over the fence."
"This was totally different than the first game because we beat ourselves there but today they beat us," Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. "One swing of the bat beat us."
Gee singled and Kay Kay Lupo walked after fouling off six two-pitch strikes an inning later. Kariann Reisch dropped a nice bunt and Gee then scored on a wild pitch, giving Loyalsock a 3-0 lead. Warrior Run threatened four times after that, but Gee never buckled.
In each of the first four innings, Warrior Run (14-3, 11-3) put the lead runner on and each time Gee retired the next three batters. Katy Swartz hit a one-out double in the sixth and scored the Defenders' first run following Lynn Vermilya and Carra Rishel singles. A two-out error loaded the bases and brought up Gabby Shrawder who was 3 for 3 at that point.
The pressure mounting, a championship possibly slipping away, Gee stayed calm and focused, inducing an inning-ending groundout to Watkins at third. A year after playing in junior high, Gee went head-to-head with the reigning Class AA Player of the Year and won again.
"We made plays when we had to and Kayla made pitches when she had to and picked up the defense," O'Malley said. "She got through a difficult situation and did a super job. As a freshman, that was really impressive."
So was the play Watkins made in the seventh. Devin Nicholas slammed a hard grounder down the third-base line and looked like she would have a sure lead-off single. Instead, Watkins made a diving stop before delivering a no-hop throw to first from her knees that beat her by a step. The play was magnified when Parker singled a batter later.
Instead of having two runners on and no outs, the tying run remained at the plate and Gee retired the next two hitters, sealing the championship.
"I had to do it for the seniors," Watkins said. "I came out and knew I had to be ready for anything and was able to make the play."
Parker scattered five hits and struck out five while reaching 810 for her career. Shrawder hit a third-inning double off the left-field fence, missing a home run by just a few feet.
"Gabby is a dangerous lead-off hitter," Watson said. "She has power and was really hitting the ball hard."
Loyalsock002 100 0-3 5 1
Warrior Run000 001 0-1 7 0
Kayla Gee and Amanda Daneker. Taylor Parker and Lynn Vermilya. W-Gee, (10-3). L-Parker, (14-3).
Top Loyalsock hitters: Allison Czap 2-3, 2-run HR; Gee 1-3, R; Kariann Reisch 1-2. Top Warrior Run hitters: Gabby Shrawder 3-4, 2B; Katy Swartz 2-4, 2B, R; Carra Rishel 1-2, RBI.
Records: Loyalsock 15-4, 12-2 HAC-II. Warrior Run 14-3, 11-3.