WILKES-BARRE Once the ball left the bat of Holy Redeemer's Alexis Shemanski during Monday afternoon's PIAA Class AA first-round playoff game at Wilkes University, the outcome was decided. The ball carried to Warrior Run senior center fielder Gabby Shrawder, but this time she couldn't rescue the Defenders.
Shrawder, who caught a sinking line drive in the district championship game with the bases loaded last Friday, easily settled under Shemanski's fly ball but caught it helplessly. The Royals' fastest runner Chelsea Skrepenak was just 60 feet away from ending a memorable two-year run for the Defenders that included a trip to the 2012 PIAA Championship game.
All everyone could do was wait and watch as one team anticipated continuing their season while another loathed ending theirs.
And as the ball disappeared into Shrawder's glove and Skrepenak took off for home, one team gathered together around home plate to celebrate a 1-0, eight-inning victory - its first state playoff victory in school history and the other filed off the field one-by-one into their dugout as the sounds of joy echoed to their left.
"It was tough (being down 1-2), but I just had to clear my head and coach always tells me to put a smile on your face and you can hit the ball and that's what I did," Shemanski said. "I put a smile on face, loosened up and hit it."
There were plenty of smiles to go around after Shemanski's sacrifice fly, as it put the Royals into the second round on Thursday against the winner of Conwell Egan/Pequea Valley. That game was postponed until today due to weather.
The Defenders (20-4) were looking to postpone the end of their season until after the Class AA championship game at Penn State. Monday's loss shocked a team which mostly grew up together on the softball fields since Little League and blossomed into a team that won a second consecutive District 4 Class AA title this year. The second straight district title was only supposed to be a stop on the way to avenging a loss in last year's PIAA championship game.
"They put softball on the map here at Warrior Run," an emotional Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said directly after addressing his team. "You got to love what the girls have done. It's tough."
The bottom of the eighth inning for Holy Redeemer (17-0) built a bases-loaded, no-out situation for Warrior Run's Taylor Parker, but it was a similar situation she faced in the top of the seventh inning on Friday against Loyalsock.
There was no escaping this time.
Parker, who wiggled out of two bases-loaded jams against the Lancers Friday and another one in the first inning on Monday, didn't allow a ball to leave the infield in the eighth inning before Shemanski's game-winning sacrifice fly. Skrepenak led off the inning with a bunt that Parker pounced on quickly and fired a strike to second baseman Laura Bastian covering first base, but the Holy Redeemer leadoff hitter beat the throw. Jen Ringsdorf wanted to sacrifice Skrepenak to second and she did, but she also reached after her bunt, that remained in the air for longer than she would have liked, eluded the glove of Warrior Run third baseman Devin Nicholas and settled into the soft infield dirt.
A passed ball moved the runners to second and third and Watson intentionally walked No. 3 hitter Sydney Kotch.
Parker, who finished one strikeout short of 900 for her career, got ahead of Shemanski 1-2 but her fourth pitch was up in the zone and Shemanski made strong contact with it and lofted it deep enough to center field to comfortably score Skrepenak.
"I knew it was far enough and she was fast enough, I knew it," said winning pitcher Kaya Swanek, who was due up next. "I was over there warming up and I was trying to get through the dugout as fast as I could."
While Holy Redeemer celebrated the softball program's first state playoff win, Warrior Run coaches, players and fans were left to wonder what-if. The Defenders on three occasions had runners doubled-off the bases in the first four innings. Two resulted from balls off the bat of Jackie Clemens. No Defenders player was more snake-bitten. Clemens squared up Swanek three times, but finished 0 for 3.
"We hit the ball hard today, but they made good plays on them and there's not much you can do about that," Watson said. "We had to come in and keep hitting the ball hard and we did that.
"It's not what we did wrong running the bases, we didn't have any blunders, they just got good jumps and made four or five real good plays on us today."
Clemens lined a ball to the right-center field gap in the first inning, but Elizabeth Eaton tracked it down and easily throw to second base to double-off Nicholas who surely thought the ball was destined for the gap. Clemens came up with a runner on in the fourth and laced another liner but it went straight into the glove of second baseman Kaitlyn Kaluzny, giving Parker little time to react to return to first base. Clemens stung another ball in the seventh, but again directly at Kaluzny.
Also in the seventh, Parker drove a ball in the left-center field gap that brought a crescendo from the well-traveled Defenders crowd, but Julie Kosik flagged it down and maintained her balance on the warning track for the inning's first out.
The Defenders, who wanted to be aggressive at the plate and attack Swanek early in the count, saw just three pitches from the right-hander in the eighth inning while being retired in order. With the help of the three double plays, Swanek faced the minimum hitters in six of eight innings.
"That helped a ton," said Swanek on Warrior Run's aggressive approach. "I threw it down the middle the first pitch and if they were going to swing at it then they were going to do it. If not, then I was going to throw it around."
She allowed three hits, walked Parker twice and struck out one. After Lynn Vermilya's double in the fifth when she reached third base before being stranded, Swanek retired the last 11 hitters she faced.
And she couldn't do it without her team. They played error-free and had to play outstanding defense as Swanek struck out the first batter she faced on Monday but didn't record another one over the next 7 2/3 innings.
Parker struck out nine in her final appearance for the Defenders and finished the season with 260 strikeouts. She also finished as the school's all-time strikeout leader and helped lead the Defenders to their first two district softball titles in program history.
"They've done things here that most kids can dream about it," Watson said. "It's beyond softball and that's why it hurts so bad because they're a good bunch of kids."
Warrior Run000 000 00 0 3 1
Holy Redeemer000 000 01 1 5 0
Taylor Parker and Lynn Vermilya. Kaya Swanek and Chelsea Skrepenak. WP Swanek. LP Parker.
Top Warrior Run hitters: Devin Nicholas 2B; Vermilya 2B. Top Holy Redeemer hitters: Skrepenak 1-4, run; Alexis Shemanski 1-2, RBI.
Records: Holy Redeemer 17-0, Warrior Run 20-4. Next: Holy Redeemer vs. Conwell Egan/Pequea Valley winner, Thu., TBA.