The first two Central Columbia hitters reached base against Loyalsock freshman pitcher Kayla Gee in the top of the seventh inning, and first-year coach Tom O'Malley made a quick visit to the circle. What he saw afterwards is what he has been seeing all year - his freshman pitcher excelling in pressure situations.
Gee wiggled out of the trouble with the help of two outstanding defensive plays and the Lancers advanced to the District 4 Class AA softball final with a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday at Elm Park.
"She was calm," Loyalsock catcher Amanda Daneker said. "She was actually really calm. For how big it was and for her being a freshman, she was great. She's been calm the whole year and never has been really rattled and that is a great thing to have as a pitcher."
Kay Kay Lupo of Loyalsock is safe at second base as Central Columbia’s Kimberly Hollister waits for a throw in the sixth inning Thursday at Elm Park.
The Lancers (17-5) play Warrior Run, a 3-0 winner over Southern Columbia in the other semifinal, today at 4:30 p.m. for the district championship. Only the winner of today's game will advance to the PIAA tournament.
Loyalsock led 4-1 entering the top of the seventh inning on Thursday, but an error and an Allison Karchner single put runners on first and second and brought the tying run to the plate. Gee struck out the first hitter she faced following the brief conference with O'Malley and second baseman Ashleigh Bair secured an over-the-shoulder catch for out No. 2 that could have loaded the bases with one out.
Central's Kimberly Hollister followed and grounded a ball in the hole between short and third base, but Loyalsock's Kendall Watkins dove to her left and on her belly to glove the ball. She quickly rose from the dust to her feet and tagged out pinch-runner Rachel Davis who advanced a base along with Paige Siegrist on a wild pitch. It was ruled that Siegrist crossed the plate before Davis was tagged out, but it only brought Central one run closer as Loyalsock celebrated their victory.
"Offense scores the runs, but pitching and defense win games and that is what happened today, especially in that seventh inning," said O'Malley.
Gee wasn't overpowering and finished with just four strikeouts, but the freshman didn't allow the Blue Jays (16-6) many quality swings against her. She worked the outside corner well and allowed just single runs in the fifth and seventh innings.
The run in the fifth inning closed Central's deficit to 2-1, but the Lancers responded in the bottom of the inning with two more runs. Allie Pagana tripled to drive in one run and Gee followed with a single to make it 4-1.
Pagana finished 2 for 3 with 2 runs scored from the leadoff spot. Daneker also added two hits and her single in the first inning was misplayed in left and allowed Pagana to score the game's initial run. Daneker reached third on the error and scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
"It really changes the game a lot being ahead," Daneker said. "Being ahead on a team like that is a relief and we play relaxed."
Just like their freshman pitcher.
Central000 010 1 - 2 5 2
Loyalsock200 020 x - 4 9 2
Paige Siegrist and Mackenzie Klinger. Kayla Gee and Amanda Daneker. WP - Gee. LP - Siegrist.
Top Loyalsock hitters: Allie Pagana 2-3, 3b, RBI; Daneker 2-3; Kendall Watkins 2b.
Records: Loyalsock 17-5, Central Columbia 16-6. Next: Loyalsock vs. Warrior Run, today, 4:30 p.m., Elm Park.