Through the first four innings of Loyalsock's game with Jersey Shore, Lancers ace pitcher Kayle Gee had thrown a nearly flawless game.
Having allowed just one hit against one of the best teams in the area, the sophomore was cruising, as she routinely retired batters by forcing pop-ups and groundouts; and her teammates were following suit with clean defensive play.
But with Loyalsock holding onto a narrow lead in the top of the fifth, things took an unexpected turn for Gee and the rest of the Lancer crew, which ultimately led to their undoing and a 4-1 loss.
Erin Engel of Jersey Shore catches a fly ball as Jess Allen, right, closes in Monday at Loyalsock’s Short Park. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
After forcing two outs to begin the fifth, before walking a batter, the Lancers seemed to be heading into bottom half of the inning with their lead still intact when Shore's Nancy Walters was initially credited for her team's third out on a shallow fly ball.
However, that play was repealed by the first base umpire, who claimed that Gee had thrown an illegal pitch by "leaping" instead of dragging her pivot foot from the rubber on her delivery motion- something he had warned her about numerous times throughout the game. The illegal pitch was enough to walk Walters to first base, and also sent Shore's first run across the plate, as Kinlea Westin was sent home from third base.
In a 1-1 tie, the Bulldogs enjoyed a huge boost of confidence and energy as their leadoff hitter, Jess Allen, then approached the batter's box. Things then went from good to great for Shore, as Gee threw yet another illegal pitch, moving Walters from first to second base.
At that point, Gee appeared visibly shaken in the circle, and her confidence was only diminished further on her next throw, as Allen cracked a line-drive double to center field, sending Walters home from second.
The Bulldogs went on to score two more runs in the inning, following a double from Kaitlyn Cowfer, who went 2-for-3 on the day.
"I thought coming into this game that we wouldn't get the amount of hits we are used to getting, but I knew they couldn't keep our bats quiet forever," Jersey Shore head coach Chris Glenn said. "The idea was just to get the hits put together, and that fourth inning is when we made it happen."
Defensively, the Bulldogs were helped by a nice performance from their No. 1 pitcher, Rebecca Caputo. After allowing an early first-inning run, Caputo settled down nicely, striking out 6 of the 27 batters she faced. Though she let up nine singles, Caputo allowed no extra-base hits, and found ways to dig herself out of trouble each time the momentum swung toward the Lancers.
"Loyalsock has always been a really good team with strong defense and strong hitting, so I was a little bit nervous coming to play them," Caputo said. "But we came together as a team today, and I'm lucky to have a great defense behind me."
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Loyalsock nearly rallied for a comeback, when the Lancers loaded the bases with just one out and were in the heart of their batting order. However, Glenn said that even though he feared Caputo was getting tired in the circle, he wasn't worried about her giving up the three runs Loyalsock would need to tie the game, because the lift she was getting on her pitches was enough to negate the press he felt the Lancers would use.
"If you get that ball up in the air, then you have a really good opportunity of getting the batter out," said Glenn. "I felt like they would have had to hit a home run to go ahead on us right there, because we were going to get those two outs before they would be able to get the runs they needed.
"You have to believe in your starting pitcher," he said. "I believed in her, and she proved me right," Glenn said.
After the game, Loyalsock head coach Craig Weaver was understandably upset with the way the way his team lost, but not with the effort.
"It was the best softball these girls have played all year, and we have played some good softball; but against that caliber of competition, we were very sharp through the first four innings," he said. "We had no errors, we were hitting the ball, and we were doing everything correct - and then that started."
"Our girls showed there won't be any quit in them, but this was a tough one to swallow the way it went down."
Jersey Shore 000 040 0 - 4 4 1
Loyalsock 100 000 0 - 1 9 0
Rebecca Caputo (W, 6K). Kayla Gee (L).
Jersey Shore top hitters: Kaitlyn Cowfer 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Jess Allen 1-4, 2B, RBI, R. Loyalsock top hitters: Kayla Gee 4-4, RBI; Ali Pagana 1-4, R.