Loyalsock softball drops South

She spends her summers playing daily, sometimes five times a day. She spends her offseason splitting time between the batting cages and working on every other softball aspect.

The finished product is what a big crowd saw Thursday at Short Park. And what a product it is.

Loyalsock second baseman Ashleigh Bair played sensational defense, saving multiple runs and turning what might have a loss into a thrilling win over a tough rival. Bair made a personal highlight reel of plays while also scoring an insurance run on a textbook sixth inning slide as Loyalsock defeated South Williamsport, 4-2 in a fantastic game on a gray, blustery day.

“I take so much pride in what I do. I work extremely hard to get to this level. I’ll lay out, stop balls and do whatever I have to do to make the play,” Bair said. “I think it’s kind of like a game-changer when you make big defensive plays. It gets everyone going and then we say it’s our turn to hit and we get going and the game changes.”

Amanda Daneker hit a game-tying 2-run home run and earned the win in relief, retiring all seven batters she faced. Kendall Watkins hit a go-ahead fifth-inning single and Allison Czap added a big 2-out, sixth-inning RBI single as Loyalsock improved to 2-0.

Had it not been for Bair’s defense, Loyalsock would not have been in position to do any of that. The four-year starter made her first standout play when she dove to her right and knocked down a Jourdan Boehmer second-inning single headed for right field. That would have scored a run and put South up 3-2 but Bair’s diving stop prevented it from going to the outfield and held speedy Rachel Floyd at third. Pitcher Kylie Welker ended the threat a batter later.

Three innings later, Bair one-upped herself. Boehmer (3 for 3) hit her third consecutive single with one out in the fifth. Sarah March, who crushed a two-run, first-inning home run, then slammed a screaming liner toward the right-center field gap. The ball appeared headed for the fence but instead, Bair leapt and made the difficult catch before wheeling to first and completing an inning-ending double play.

Again, Bair prevented South from taking the lead and Loyalsock built on the momentum in the bottom half when Daneker hit a lead-off single and scored following Czap and Watkins singles.

“It happened really quick. I saw the ball and it kept rising so I kind of jumped for it and it found the glove,” Bair said. “I knew the runner would have probably have taken the lead so I knew to throw to first and my first baseman would be there.”

“The second (play) was the clincher. I thought that was definitely going to be a triple and Jourdan scores easily,” South coach Scott Stugart. “There’s nothing you can do about it, because if Jourdan doesn’t get doubled off then she probably wasn’t running the bases properly. That was huge. Ashleigh is a great player.”

Bair will play at Lock Haven next year. She has the work ethic, but also outstanding knowledge. She proved it again in the sixth after she hit a lead-off single and moved to second on Daneker’s single. Czap hit a single up the middle and Floyd made a perfect throw home, only to watch Bair still score on a beautiful tailing slide.

With a dangerous South lineup turning over to the top in the seventh inning it was a little play that meant a lot. It is the sum of all those little things Bair does so well that has Loyalsock at 2-0.

“It’s the softball IQ she has from playing the game, being a senior, being a leader,” Loyalsock coach Tom O’Malley said. “That was a bang-bang play. We worked on sliding a couple days ago and it came into play there.”

Both teams took turns making outstanding plays as a long and storied rivalry added another terrific game. Floyd made a run-saving catch in center field as did Lizz Cummings in right field. Freshman pitcher Anna Steer threw a strong game against a potent lineup, displaying impressive poise and repeatedly stranding runners.

Boehmer hit everything thrown her way and March had the game’s longest hit. Loyalsock earned the win, but South showed how good it is too.

“This is the most leadership we’ve had, not just our captains, but underclassmen too are stepping up and doing their thing,” Stugart said. “If they can do that all year this team can reach its potential.”

Daneker answered March’s 2-run home run in the bottom of the first with her second in as many at-bats going back to Wednesday. Despite Steer throwing an inside fastball, Daneker still was able to muscle it over the fence in center field to tie the game. She is 6 for 7 in two games and retired all seven batters she faced after entering in the fifth despite having not pitched since junior high.

Welker threw effectively as well. The right-hander settled down after the first inning and retired eight straight batters between the second and fifth innings while striking out three.

“That’s the kind of game you hate to see anyone lose,” O’Malley said. “It was a fun game to be a part of, a fun game to watch and a fun game to coach in.”

South200 000 0-2 5 2

Loyalsock200 011 x-4 8 2

Anna Steer and Sarah March. Kylie Welker, Amanda Daneker (5) and Daneker, Allison Czap (5). W-Daneker, (1-0). L-Steer, (1-1).

Top South hitters: Jourdan Boehmer 3-3, R; March 1-3, 2-run HR. Top Loyalsock hitters: Ashleigh Bair 1-3, 2 R; Daneker 3-3, 2-run HR, 2 R; Czap 2-4, RBI; Kayla Gee 1-3, 2B.

Records: Loyalsock 2-0, 2-0 HAC-II. South 2-1, 1-1.