It appeared Loyalsock's Kayla Gee has just delivered strike three, a strike which would have been a strong ending to a brilliant first inning against South Williamsport on Thursday.
But as she and her teammates were headed toward the dugout, they were stopped abruptly by the base umpire who had called Gee for an illegal pitch. What appeared to be strike three on a full-count pitch, was now being ruled ball four.
Four pitches later South Williamsport scored its first run on a Kelsey Gantz triple. Gantz crossed the plate herself on a wild pitch to tie the score. The illegal pitch was one of three called against Gee, and those three led directly to the Mounties scoring three runs in a 7-4 win over the Lancers.
South Williamsport third baseman Kelsey Gantz left, second baseman Sabrina Mussare, right, and pitcher Anna Steer, back, celebrate after their win over Loyalsock Thursday at South Williamsport. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
It was the second win this season for South Williamsport over Loyalsock, giving the Mounties a regular-season sweep over the Lancers for the first time since 2007. What was a momentous win for South Williamsport and head coach Scott Stugart, was also a confusing loss for Loyalsock and head coach Craig Weaver Sr., who was left to wonder how to avoid the illegal pitch calls which have hampered the Lancers in its most recent games.
"I think it's cost us two ball games, and it's not Kayla Gee's fault," Weaver said. "There's a toe drag there. I'm not sure what more (the umpires) want. It's obvious the toe drag is there."
The first of the three illegal pitch calls was maybe the most crucial and pivotal. Loyalsock had scored a pair of runs in the top of the first inning thanks to RBI singles from Gee and Cellina Salvatori. And when Gee appeared to retire the side in the bottom of the inning in order, Loyalsock had played the perfect first inning and set the tone for the game.
But the first of the illegal pitch calls let the inning continue. Gantz then hit a frozen rope to center field, going all the way to the fence, to score Kalynn Wheeland who was the beneficiary of the illegal pitch call. When Gantz scored on a wild pitch just a couple pitches later, it had wiped out Loyalsock's great start.
South Williamsport built on that second chance, scoring a pair of runs in each of the first three innings. Loyalsock never seemed to recover, and back-to-back illegal pitch calls in the third inning moved Gantz around the bases for another run.
The Mounties capitalized on almost every opportunity it got to score yesterday, riding the momentum of the first inning. They were 3 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Lizz Cummings drove in three runs and Gantz drove in two more.
"We had a little lull mid-season. We hit a spot where we weren't cashing in and not getting clutch hits," Stugart said. "Starting this week, we started getting back to it. We had a bunch of really clutch hits that really helped us out."
South Williamsport also got the benefit of Steer settling in to a rhythm after Loyalsock's two-run first inning. She faced just one batter over the minimum from the second through fourth innings as her offense tacked on to its lead. The only blemish on Steer's record over the final six innings came when Cummings dropped a two-out fly ball to center field allowing two runs to score. It cut South's lead to 6-4.
But Cummings, who has been tearing up opposing pitchers over her past five games, more than made up for it offensively. She hit a two-run, two-out double in the second inning to give South Williamsport a 4-2 lead. She added an RBI single with two outs in the sixth inning to push the Mounties' lead to 7-4.
"Dropping that ball and striking out, I expect more of myself. That's why I get upset," Cummings said. "I just focused on the team and I know what I have to do for the team to help us get the win."
"This is her second year starting and I thought we would get this earlier from her last year," Stugart said. "She plays summer ball for us and I first saw it there. But you get a little nervous when you first start playing varsity. I knew it was just a matter of time. She has a lot of confidence right now. It's not just home runs. It's nice to have someone who can play small ball or drive it over the fence."
Loyalsock 200 020 0 - 4 9 1
S. Williamsport 222 001 x - 7 7 2
Kayla Gee and Allison Czap. Anna Steer and Alanna Herrera. W-Steer. L-Gee.
Top Loyalsock hitters: Allie Pagana, 1-4; Kay Kay Lupo, 3-4, run; Kayla Gee, 2-4, RBI, run; Kendall Watkins, 1-3, run; Cellina Salvatori, 1-3, RBI; Alley Kennedy, 1-3, run. Top South Williamsport hitters: Lizz Cummings, 2-4, double, 3 RBIs; Kalynn Wheeland, 1-3, 2 runs; Kelsey Gantz, 2-3, triple, 2 RBIs; Sabrina Mussare, 2-3, 2 runs.
Pitchers' lines: Loyalsock - Kayla Gee (6 IP, 7 hits, 7 runs, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 Ks). South Williamsport - Anna Steer (7 IP, 9 hits, 4 runs, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks).
With runners in scoring position: Loyalsock 3-9; South Williamsport 3-7.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Loyalsock 5-2; South Williamsport 4-3.
Pitches-strikes: Loyalsock - Kayla Gee, 119-71. South Williamsport - Anna Steer, 99-71.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Loyalsock - Kayla Gee, 31-16. South Williamsport - Anna Steer, 26-22.
Records: Loyalsock (6-4, 6-3 HAC-II); South Williamsport (6-4, 5-3 HAC-II).