When Bryce Hillyard stepped into the batter's box in the top of the ninth inning the winning run stood just 60 feet away. And after dropping an easy popup earlier in the game, it would have been easy for Hillyard to lose confidence and roll over a pitch for an easy groundout like so many of her teammates before her.
Hillyard never lost confidence, however, and laced the 1-2 pitch between the outstretched arms of both the third baseman and shortstop into left field to score Holly Peacock from third and give Jersey Shore the 1-0 win in nine innings over Mifflinburg in a District 4 AAA semifinal at Elm Park on Thursday.
"I just knew I had to keep my head on straight and not swing at balls," Hillyard said of her final at-bat. "I knew I had to do what I had to do to get Holly in. I got down a little bit after I dropped that pop fly, but I knew I had to keep my head on straight."
After Peacock led off the inning with a stand-up triple, Hillyard came through with the big hit the Lady Bulldogs had struggled to find throughout the game with Mifflinburg's Ally Lloyd in the circle. Lloyd limited Jersey Shore to just six hits and one walk before the final frame while striking out six batters and working out of jams in the third and fourth inning.
"It was a hard-fought game on both sides, and it's one of those games where it's great to come out a winner, but with a game like that there isn't really a loser," Jersey Shore manager Chris Glenn said. "They played a tough game. A real tough game."
The key hits from Peacock and Hillyard in the ninth picked up starter Rebecca Caputo, who kept the Mifflinburg bats silent for the majority of the afternoon. Caputo allowed just five hits, but walked two batters and worked her way out of jams, including one in the ninth with runners on first and second with one out.
"I was a little nervous coming in," Caputo said. "But I knew my team could get me out of it."
One of the main reasons Caputo wiggled out of jams was the stellar defensive play of center fielder Kayla Allen behind her. Allen made two sliding catches coming towards in the infield and a diving catch in right-center field to rob Lloyd of a hit in the bottom of the eighth inning. Allen would have to leave the game, however, after jamming her knee on the diving snag.
"Kayla Allen's defense in center field is phenomenal and she is a true, true warrior," Glenn said. "When she walks out there she is gong to give you 120 percent. She is determined to not let anything drop."
"She's the best center fielder I've ever had behind me," Caputo said. "It made me a little nervous not having her out there."
Down to its final three outs, Mifflinburg made one final charge at Caputo in the bottom of the ninth. Sara Stauffer led off the inning with a single and a Molly Davis single two batters later gave the Wildcats a golden opportunity with runners on first and second and just one out.
Mifflinburg squandered the opportunity, though, as Caputo induced a flyout to left field and got Nicole Brouce to groundout to Hannah Yost to end the game.
"They played tough and they played their hearts out," Mifflinburg manager Steve Ross said of his team. "We couldn't take advantage of a runner on third base two innings in a row in the first and second and we couldn't get the key hits to score. It was a very well played ball game and they got the key hit and that's what happens."
Jersey Shore 000 000 001 - 1 8 0
Mifflinburg 000 000 000 - 0 5 0
Rebecca Caputo and Bryce Hillyard. Ally Lloyd and Kelcie Crabb. W - Caputo. L - Lloyd.
Top Jersey Shore hitters: Bryce Hillyard 2-4, RBI; Holly Peachock 1-4, 3B, R. Top Mifflinburg hitters: Sara Stauffer 2-4, 2B; Kayla Kline 1-4, BB.