EDWARDSVILLE - Vince Trivelpiece has never hit Becky Demko in the two-hole before. Heck, he didn't think she had ever hit in the two-hole prior to Wednesday's District 2-4 AAAA softball final.
But the Hazleton head coach wanted to make sure to get one of his best offensive weapons as many trips to the plate as possible. Facing a pitcher the quality of Williamsport's Alexis Bower, the reigning Class AAAA Player of the Year, Trivelpiece wanted his best bats facing the best pitcher they'd seen all year as many times as possible.
Trivelpiece's hunch paid off. Demko got an extra at-bat in the top of the seventh and used it to hit a sacrifice fly to score the game's only run. Hazleton ended Williamsport's two-year run of district championships with a 1-0 win at Wilkes University thanks to Demko's sacrifice fly and her four-hit shutout.
"She's the difference-maker. She's the franchise," Trivelpiece. "We've said it all year. She's getting (ticked) off we're not scoring any runs, so she hits the game-winning run in."
Demko spoiled another stellar effort from Bower, who scattered five hits, left runners stranded in scoring position in four innings, and collected two of the Millionaires' four hits, including the game's only extra-base hit.
But a struggling, young Williamsport offense just couldn't back up its all-everything pitcher. Two-hole hitter Kaitlin Caringi recorded the Millionaires' other two hits, but with the bases loaded and one out in the first and bases loaded with nobody out in the sixth, Williamsport failed to score a run.
"She's just way better than everybody else," Trivelpiece said of Bower. "I feel bad for her because she pitched a whale of a game and lost."
Ultimately, it was Williamsport's lack of offensive ability, outside of Bower and her sister Mikayla, and Hazleton's one timely at-bat which sent the Millionaires home for the rest of the season and ended one of the best scholastic softball careers in Williamsport history.
"We got a lot out of a senior pitcher and a bunch of underclassmen," Williamsport head coach Quint Bower said. "I pulled Alexis aside earlier this week and said one player can't win or lose ball games. We need players to step up. It's a team effort. We got beat by a good team. I thought we played a good game, we just came up on the losing end of it."
The two scoring threats the Millionaires had in the first and sixth innings were the only offensive threats they had throughout the title game. In between, Demko was nearly unhittable.
In the other five innings, she retired 15 of the 16 batters she faced. The only batter to reach base in that span was Alexis Bower, who earned a walk with two outs and nobody on base in the third inning.
With the bases loaded and one out in the first, Demko induced a pop-up to shortstop and followed it with a strikeout to wiggle out of the jam. In the sixth inning, after a Caringi leadoff single and a Bower double, Trivelpiece intentionally walked Mikayla Bower to load the bases.
On the first pitch to Samantha Fischer with the bases loaded and nobody out, Demko unleashed a wild pitch to the backstop. Caringi got a late break on the play and was thrown out by some five feet trying to score.
Demko followed that play with a foul pop-up to the catcher and another strikeout, her ninth, to end the threat.
"We had our opportunities getting those runners on third base," Quint Bower said. "We just needed a fly ball to the outfield for a sacrifice fly and we couldn't get it."
"It's really that first score wins in this game. There's no way we're letting Mikayla beat us," Trivelpiece said. "No offense to the people behind her, but we weren't letting the best kids beat us. No way. So we went after those kids. We're lucky. We're lucky all the time."
Bower wiggled out of jams much of the afternoon in maybe her toughest outing of the season. She induced a lazy pop-up to strand two runners in the first. She got a routine grounder to leave two more stranded in the third. She earned one of her six strikeouts to strand a runner on second in the fourth. And after loading the bases with one out in the fifth, she got a force out at the plate and a comebacker to end the threat.
Bower, looking as calm as could be, was at her best when she was in trouble yesterday. Hazleton was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners on base.
"I've learned over the years to calm down in those situations and just throw strikes and let the defense do the work," Alexis Bower said. "It's mentally very stressing. In my head I'm screaming for a few seconds. I tell myself to calm down, you're not doing this alone, you're not out here alone, you have your team. And they had great plays today and throughout the whole season. We just needed to hit and we didn't get it done."
Hazleton's Mikaela Browdy, the ninth hitter in the lineup, led off the top of the seventh inning with a single to left field. She was bunted to second and moved to third on a wild pitch with one out. Demko, who put the ball in play all four times at-bat, lofted a fly ball to medium right field.
Williamsport's Taylor Brooks caught the ball moving in and unleashed a strong throw to the plate on the fly which was a little off line allowing Browdy to score. At third base Caringi crouched with her hands over her head because one run might as well have been 100 with the way Demko was throwing.
Demko retired the side in order in the seventh inning to secure Hazleton's district title.
Hazleton 000 000 1 - 1 7 0
Williamsport 000 000 0 - 0 4 1
Becky Demko and Justine Rossi. Alexis Bower and McKenzie Tebbs. W-Demko. L-Bower.
Top Hazleton hitters: Becky Demko, 1-3, RBI; Maria Trivelpiece, 3-4; Abby Sachse, 1-3; Celine Podlesney, 1-2; Mikaela Browdy, 1-2, run. Top Williamsport hitters: Kaitlin Caringi, 2-3; Alexis Bower, 2-3, double.
Pitchers lines: Hazleton, Becky Demko - 7 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks. Williamsport, Alexis Bower - 7 IP, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks.
With runners in scoring position: Hazleton 1-7; Williamsport 0-5.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Hazleton 8-4; Williamsport 6-4.
Pitches-strikes: Hazleton, Demko 96-62. Williamsport, Bower 108-68.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Hazleton, Demko 27-17. Williamsport, Bower 30-18.