Mounties advance in 8 innings

THROOP – The infield was in. Way in.

Like, give-the-catcher-a-high-five in. Old Forge pitcher Taylor Nemetz was playing deeper than any other Blue Devils infielder.

Old Forge was daring South Williamsport’s Roxie Keller to find a hole to drive the ball through during Monday’s PIAA Class A softball opener. Keller found it.

She hit a Baltimore chop between the third baseman and shortstop with the bases loaded and both fielders hesitated going after it as it trickled into left field. Kalynn Wheeland and Kelsey Gantz scored as the bottom of the Mounties’ order came through with more big hits yesterday. Keller’s game-winning hit led South Williamsport to its first state playoff win since 2006, 5-3 over the Blue Devils in eight innings at Mid Valley High School.

Keller, the team’s No. 7 hitter who had the game-tying hit in the District 4 title game last week, also scored the tying run in the sixth inning on a clutch two-out double by Sabrina Mussare as, for the fourth time in four playoff games, South Williamsport came from behind to win.

South Williamsport advances to the PIAA Class A quarterfinals where it will play District 1 champion Bristol, a 24-0 winner over GAMP, on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.

“It’s almost like do or die every game,” South Williamsport head coach Scott Stugart said. “It’s truly a testament to how focused and how close they are and how much they believe in each other.”

“We pick each other up and nobody is ever down on themselves,” said Mussare, the team’s No. 8 hitter who was 3 for 4. “I really think cheering each other on is a big part of that.”

Surprised his team once again came from behind to win? Not really. Stugart has maybe added a few gray hairs to the mix because of the nature of his Comeback Kids, but he sees a sense of calm in his team. One which allows them to make the most of their opportunities whether they be in the first or sixth inning.

It’s become the calling card of a team which is now 11 years removed from the Mounties’ only state softball championship. So when Old Forge took a 3-2 lead on a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning, it seemed to be the kickstart South Williamsport needed after it hadn’t scored since its two-run first inning.

Keller singled up the middle with two outs, and Mussare drove the first pitch she saw to the right-center field gap. It scooted past Blue Devils center fielder Maya Florovito allowing Keller to come all the way around from first to score. It didn’t even matter Mussare was thrown out at third trying to stretch the play into a triple.

The tied score at 3-3 reset the game for a team which has been its best in the postseason in the later innings. Pitcher Anna Steer retired 10 of the final 12 batters she faced, giving her offense an opportunity to win the game.

“I was a little mad at myself, I think my frustration kind of fueled my hit there,” Mussare said. “But it’s awesome just to help the team out in any way.”

“She does a lot of the small things you don’t notice in the box score,” Stugart said. “She sets the table for the most part. But it’s nice to have her get a big hit like that and enjoy the moment.”

The Mounties made their play to win the game in the top of the eighth inning when Wheeland singled on a chopper up the middle. Gantz then hit a bullet to center field, which bounced out of Florovito’s glove. Steer moved both runners up when Nemetz knocked down a screamer back through the box and got the out at first.

After a fielder’s choice loaded the bases, Old Forge called its infield in. Second baseman Annie Cherundolo was basically playing at Nemetz’s hip, as was shortstop Rhyan Banic. Nemetz went to 0-2 against Keller before the senior chopped one in the hole to score two runs.

“I saw that they moved in. They were way in. I like that,” Stugart said. “Usually the bottom of the lineup, they might hit some line drives, but they don’t hit long drives. That opened up some green area and I hoped we might punch a few through.”

And it was all enough to back another stellar outing from Steer, the sophomore who has been battling a tired and sore arm for much of the postseason. She threw an incredible 73 percent of her pitches (82 of 113) for strikes. She struck out a postseason-high seven, including the final batter of the game.

The Mounties’ second-year starting pitcher has shown the presence and moxie of a veteran pitcher during the playoffs. Faced with the bases loaded and nobody out with South clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning yesterday, Steer recorded back-to-back strikeouts, the first coming in a 10-pitch at-bat, and induced a weak comebacker to escape the jam without allowing a run.

“She never has an off-day ever,” Mussare said. “She’s always throwing her best and picking everyone up. She’s just great.”

“She gets better in big games and really digs deep, and she’s showing that,” Stugart said. “That was hufe. She’s not a strikeout pitcher where she ends up with eight to 10 every game. But she always seems to put it in the right spot.”

So. Williamsport200 001 02 – 5 10 2

Old Forge001 020 00 – 3 8 3

Anna Steer and Alanna Herrera. Taylor Nemetz and Tori Tansley. W – Steer. L – Nemetz.

Top South Williamsport hitters: Lizz Cummings, 1-4, double, run; Kalynn Wheeland, 1-4, run; Kelsey Gantz, 2-4, 2 RBIs; Anna Steer, 1-4; Roxie Keller, 2-4, 2 RBIs, run; Sabrina Mussare, 3-4, double, RBI. Top Old Forge hitters: Tori Tansley, 1-3, double, RBI; Kierstyn Brieg, 1-3, run; Rhyan Banic, 2-4, double; Kayla Florovito, 2-4, 2 RBIs; Gabby Verespey, 1-4; Francesca Samony, 1-4, run.

Pitchers’ lines: South Williamsport – Anna Steer (8 IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks). Old Forge – Taylor Nemetz (8 IP, 10 hits, 5 runs, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks).

Pitches-strikes: South Williamsport – Anna Steer, 113-82. Old Forge – Taylor Nemetz, 105-65.

Batters faced-first pitch strikes: South Williamsport – Anna Steer, 35-22. Old Forge – Taylor Nemetz, 36-23.

With runners in scoring position: South Williamsport, 4-11; Old Forge, 2-12.

Runners left on base-in scoring position: South Williamsport, 6-2; Old Forge, 8-5.

Records: South Williamsport (17-6); Old Forge (7-11).