Lancers battle to end in state loss

TURBOTVILLE — Rhiallie Jessell dug out two trenches in the right-batters box to fit her New Balance cleats. Loyalsock just scored its first run of the game and the first run scored against Holy Redeemer in nearly a month. The Lancers had some momentum with the right batter at the plate in Jessell, who coming in was batting .540 with 31 RBIs from the No. 4 slot. The senior catcher was digging in and preparing for the 14th pitch of the at-bat from Binghamton University commit Morgan Bienkowski. Jessell just fouled off her 10th pitch in the at-bat and Bienkowski glanced over to her dugout with a look of disbelief and stress. Bienkowski wanted this out with the Lancers threatening in the bottom of the sixth. When she let go the 15th pitch in the at-bat, Bienkowski was convinced her high and inside fastball would get Jessell. But she held off and Bienkowski jumped in disbelief, hopping towards home plate in frustration. Jessell made her way to first after winning the battle.

The walk didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. The next two batters struck out and popped up in foul territory to end the inning, but it showed Loyalsock’s heart and resilience.

It wasn’t enough as the Lancers ended their historic season in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament to Holy Redeemer, 4-1, Monday evening at the Moser Complex.

“That’s been our M.O. all year. We try and fight to the last pitch and we don’t give in to a pitcher, even a quality pitcher like her (Bienkowski),” Loyalsock coach Tom O’Malley said. “But she’s (Jessell) such a fighter and just a tremendous athlete. She’s given us leadership all year and a lot of production on the field. It exemplifies the person she is and she just continues to battle. It was just a classic at-bat and she deserved to at least get a walk. We went down fighting and that’s all you can ask for.”

Loyalsock nearly battled back from a 4-0 deficit against Division I commit Bienkowski, who is 17-0 on the season with a 0.26 ERA. She hadn’t allowed a run since May 10, a span of six games. After a strikeout to start the inning, Katie Welker earned a walk and Sam Stopper (2 for 3, RBI) ripped a double off the left field fence, just a couple feet from a home run, to make it 4-1. A pitch later, Stopper advanced to third on a wild pitch. Jessell (1 for 2, double) put up an outstanding fight in the 15-pitch at-bat, but Bienkowski (13 strikeouts, one walk allowed) got the final two outs and the Lancers went down in order in the bottom of the seventh, all via strikeout.

“I’m very proud of them. There’s a lot of character on this team and a lot of really good individuals and a lot of good people and it shows,” O’Malley said. “The work ethic that they had was outstanding and I couldn’t be prouder.”

The Lancers fell behind early in the first on a two-run home run by Tiana Wren and Redeemer added another home run in the second by Bienkowski to make it 3-0. After struggling to find her way in the first two innings, senior pitcher Juliana Cruz battled. Cruz wasn’t going down without a fight. The lefty gave up just one run the rest of the way and that was on a double steal in the third. She faced the minimum number of batters in three of the next four innings, retired eight of the next 11 batters she faced and allowed just one hit in the final three innings.

“That’s a very good team over there and she did, she pitched well. A couple balls that she might’ve liked to have back but other than that she gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for,” O’Malley said. “…They played hard, they fought and hats off to their pitcher. She’s tough and like I told them, one play here or there, one pitch here or there. They were the better team today and you gotta give credit to them.”

Holy Redeemer 211 000 0–4 6 1

Loyalsock 000 001 0–1 3 1

Morgan Bienkowski and Tiana Wren. Juliana Cruz and Rhiallie Jessell. W–Bienkowski. L– Cruz.

Top Loyalsock hitters: Sam Stopper 2-3 2B, RBI; Katie Welker 0-2, run; Rhiallie Jessell 1-2, 2B. Top Holy Redeemer hitters: Morgan Bienkowski 1-4, solo HR; Sam Rajza 1-2, run; Tiana Wren 2-3, 2B, HR, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Taylor Josefowicz 2-2.

Records: Loyalsock (18-5); Holy Redeemer (18-2).