Lancers rally to a victory in softball

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport’s Bella Barone tags out Loyalsock’s Rhandie Jessell on an attempted steal at second base in the fourth inning Thursday at South Williamsport.

Loyalsock first baseman Mari Housknecht flew through the air, snaring Hailey Holtzapple’s wicked line drive and saving a run. Two innings later, South Williamsport outfielders Lilly Eiswerth and Natalya Steppe made three brilliant catches, returning the favor and squashing a potential Lancer rally.

This was a typical Loyalsock-South game Thursday as long-time rivals exchanged big plays and big hits. Ultimately, it also featured what has become a typical rivalry ending.

Grace Schaible hit a go-ahead two-run single, Summer McNulty roped three hits and Maddy Jean threw three innings of scoreless relief as visiting Loyalsock erased a two-run sixth-inning deficit and defeated South, 10-4. The Lancers (10-2, 7-0 HAC-III) won their seventh straight, stayed undefeated in league play and clinched a District 4 Class AAA playoff berth. This was the fourth time in six games over the last three seasons that the team trailing in the sixth inning or beyond came back and won.

“These girls are resilient,” Loyalsock coach Mark Godfrey said. “They’re working hard. We made some great plays and they did, too, and it was a fun game.”

South (5-5, 3-4) was having a lot of fun after Emily Hennigan hit a third-inning grand slam that gave it a 4-2 lead. The Mounties held that lead until the sixth inning, but for a second time this season, Loyalsock owned that inning. The Lancers scored nine runs the first time these rivals met at Loyalsock and produced eight this time, sending 12 batters to the plate and taking a 10-4 lead. The first seven Lancers reached base that inning and even the first out recorded was a productive one with Sam Stopper’s RBI grounder making it 9-4.

Although Loyalsock won its three previous games by 35 combined runs, it overcame deficits in two of those. It also rallied from four down nearly three weeks ago, defeating 4A title contender Mifflinburg. There was no panic and Loyalsock responded again when the pressure mounted.

“This was a good game because the last couple weeks we haven’t played as many games as everyone else because we had those five games down south and before the Bloom game we had 10 days off, so it’s good to get back in it and face good competition,” McNulty said. “We were trying to be selective and find good pitches because most of the time if you put the ball in play good things will happen.”

They certainly did and it was the lower part of the order that inflicted the most damage. After Bella Barone (2 for 3, 2 RBIs) walked and Houseknecht reached on an error, Cassie Gee hit an RBI single that made it 4-3. Schaible then showed how dangerous she could become, slamming a two-run single to center field that made it, 5-4. Schaible finished 2 for 4, reached base three times and flourished in the No. 7 spot.

“The big hit was from our freshman Grace. That was huge. That opened the floodgates and away we went,” Godfrey said. “Bella hit the ball hard every time up and had a couple of RBIs. She’s coming on at the right time. If they ever put it all together I wouldn’t want to be the other pitcher. That’s my hope that we’ll put it all together at the perfect time.”

The sixth inning could not have gone more perfect for Loyalsock and Maegan Reitz put together one of the game’s best at-bat, pushing the lead to 7-4. Reitz worked back from an 0-2 count, fouled off four pitches, took a ball and then hit a two-run double. McNulty added an RBI single two batters later and Stopper and Barone followed with RBIs as Loyalsock took a 10-4 lead.

South did not go quietly with Hailey Holtzapple hitting a seventh-inning double, but Jean was outstanding in relief, allowing just that hit and striking out two. Starting pitcher Juliana Cruz snared a Sydney Bachman rocket of a liner and Stopper did the same on an Olivia Beck smash into the hole. Loyalsock played error-less defense and in a game that was so close for so long, that also made a huge difference.

“We’re going really hard at practice and that helps,” McNulty said. “It’s important that everyone stepped up today and everyone contributed to the win.”

Many contributed for South as well and the Mounties started their early-game comeback in the third inning after Barone’s first-inning RBI single and Stopper’s third-inning sacrifice fly had given Loyalsock a 2-0 lead. Steppe hit a lead-off single, Bachman walked and Mookie Sauers singled as South loaded the bases with one out. That set the stage for Hennigan who had hit a game-tying three-run home run the first time Loyalsock and South played.

Hennigan one-upped herself this time. The senior first baseman walloped the first pitch she saw, lining a blast that might still be traveling for a grand slam that gave South a 4-2 lead. She went 2 for 3 and also walked. Steppe went 2 for 2 with a walk and Holtzapple went 2 for 4 with a double, Housknecht’s masterful glovework preventing her from recording a first-inning RBI double.

“They battled really hard that whole game. We had one bad inning, but we hit the ball really hard,” South coach Scott Stugart said. “We’re starting to turn on the corner on that now and hat’s off to them for really making some good defensive plays to take away some of our good at-bats.”

South is heating after a three-game losing streak and scored 15 runs in a Tuesday win at Hughesville. The Mounties have 19 hits in their last two games and are receiving production throughout the lineup. The offense was stronger than it had been the first game against Loyalsock and South could be gaining momentum entering the season’s second half.

South is currently the No. 2 seed in the Class AA field and is seeking a third straight finals appearance. Keep swinging the way they did yesterday and the Mounties could be dangerous.

“It seemed like for a while there we weren’t confident. We were doing it at practice, but now we’re doing it in the game and the confidence is showing,” Stugart said. “We had a really good meeting out there and I think we’re in a good place right now.”

Loyalsock 101 008 0–10 10 0

South 004 000 0–4 8 5

Juliana Cruz, Maddy Jean (5) and Summer McNulty. Mookie Sauers, Emily Hennigan (6) and Olivia Beck. W: Jean, (5-1). L: Sauers, (4-3).

Top Loyalsock hitters: McNulty 3-4, RBI, 2 runs, SB; Grace Schaible 2-4, 2 RBIs, run; Bella Barone 2-3, 2 RBIs, run; Sam Stopper 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs, run; Maegan Reitz 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs, run; Cassie Gee 1-3, RBI, run. Top South hitters: Emily Hennigan 2-3, GS, 4 RBIs; Natalya Steppe 2-2, BB, run; Sarah Sullivan 1-3; Sauers 1-4, run.

Records: Loyalsock (10-2, 7-0 HAC-III), South (5-5, 3-4).