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Montgomery blanks Old Forge in PIAA Class A softball playoffs

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Faith Persing (17) is met at the plate after hitting a home run over the center field fence in the first inning of a Class A state playoff game Monday at Central Columbia. Montgomery won 7-0.

ALMEDIA–The Montgomery charter bus broke down Monday afternoon. Players joked they would hitchhike or run toward Central Columbia after the bus stopped between the Buckhorn and Light Street exits off Interstate 80.

Whatever it took, Montgomery was coming. Sure enough, despite that pit stop, the Red Raider Express kept rolling along. The bus started up after a 20-minute delay and Montgomery arrived a little late, but laser-focused. And then it played one of its best games.

Faith Persing threw a one-hit shutout and hit a leadoff home run for a second straight game. Taylor McRae also homered, the defense shined, and Montgomery pounded out 13 hits as it defeated District 2 champion Old Forge, 7-0, in its state tournament opener. The Raiders (22-1) became just the second team in program history to win a state tournament game and advanced to Thursday’s state quarterfinals to play District 11 champion Tri-Valley at a site and time to be determined.

“We keep getting hit with adversity and we keep slapping it back. I’m tickled with the way they’re performing in these conditions. I love it,” Montgomery coach Chris Glenn said. “The bus got stopped and stuff happens, but they never panicked. They got off the bus and did the things we normally do, and it was like no big deal. It was like, ‘We’re here, so let’s take care of business.'”

They did.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Taylor McRea reacts as she rounds the bases after hitting a home run during a Class A state playoff game against Montgomery on Monday at Central Columbia. Montgomery won 7-0.

Right fielder Sloan Wooten made two excellent running catches, second baseman Morgan Tupper anchored a strong infield defense, and Persing struck out 16 while collecting her 14th shutout. Seven players produced hits and Montgomery joined the 2010 team as the only ones in program history to win a state tournament game.

“We had our batting lineup a little different, so that was definitely an adjustment, but I think we all handled it pretty well,” third baseman Jenna Waring said after going 2 for 4 with an RBI and making a terrific play on a hard-hit first-inning grounder. “I think any of our girls can play anywhere and they will definitely make the plays we need.”

“We’ve all had goals and aspirations and reaching this and knowing we’re the first team since 2010 is amazing,” McRae said. “We definitely have a lot of versatility. We have confidence in every player on the team.”

Montgomery’s confidence was soaring when Persing repeated her district championship achievement and again led off with a home run. After starting the game with her blast Saturday, Persing retired the side in order in the top of the first before giving Montgomery a lead it never relinquished.

After working a 1-1 count, Persing went with the third pitch and drove it the opposite way, over the right-field fence as Montgomery went up, 1-0. Persing pumped her first as she rounded first base and again was greeted by jubilant teammates as she touched home. Old Forge implemented a five-player infield like it did when it defeated Bucktail in the 2019 state tournament opener, but Persing found the perfect way to get around that defense.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Old Forge left fielder Arianna Brown reaches down to attempt the tag on Montgomery's Faith Persing at third during the Class A state playoff game on Monday at Central Columbia. Montgomery won 7-0.

“My plan was just to go down and get on base. I saw the way their defense was set up, so I knew I had to pretty much get out of the infield to get a base hit,” Persing said. “It was just going up there and being confident.”

Persing fanned the flames and different players turned them into a raging fire as the game progressed. McRae and her sister Shelby followed with singles and Waring’s RBI single made it, 2-0. Persing and Shelby McRae each collected three hits, and Waring, Taylor McRae and Kaylei Snyder each produced two.

Montgomery played small ball as well as long ball, too, and Kaitlyn Raemsch dropped a well-placed bunt that scored Persing following a leadoff double as Montgomery went up 3-0, two innings later. Raemsch added an RBI fielder’s choice in the fourth and the District 4 champs built a 6-0 advantage in the fifth inning when Shelby McRae doubled and Waring and Snyder singled.

Old Forge pitcher Karen Sickle fanned 13 against Class AAA state quarterfinalist Mid Valley earlier this season and entered the game with 187 strikeouts. Montgomery, however, kept the pressure on all afternoon and delivered at least one hit in five of its six at-bats, giving it 22 hits in the last two games.

“Everyone knows our offense hasn’t been the strongest this year, but (Monday) it felt like we really got that spark back,” Waring said.

“Everybody was putting the ball in play. We made the best out of the opportunities we had,” Glenn said. “I’m happy with the performance. Seven runs in a state playoff game and to blank them, that’s darn good.”

So was McRae’s home run.

The junior reached base three times and capped her strong performance with a no-doubt blast. McRae drilled the first pitch she saw in the sixth inning way out in right field and Montgomery led, 7-0 as a sea of Red and White fans erupted in joy.

“I knew I had to make some adjustments and I did. I moved up in the batter’s box and I told myself it’s just another day at practice,” McRae said. “I got more confidence in myself, and I was just looking to get a hit and it turned into a home run.”

Persing picked up where she left off after overpowering Northeast Bradford in the district final and stymied an offense which often scored runs in bunches. Old Forge (16-7) scored 20 runs in two District 2 playoff games, but Persing overpowered it and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

Sickle denied Persing her eighth no-hitter when she hit a two-out single, but the junior right-hander threw her 14th shutout and did not let a runner past first base for a third straight game. Persing was efficient again and struck out the side twice, while collecting multiple strikeouts in six of the seven innings.

“We got here late because of our bus, so I didn’t have a lot of time to warm up, so I was definitely using that first inning to kind of get me going and get my pitches working,” Persing said. “It definitely worked. I was locked in.”

Old Forge 000 000 0–0 1 2

Montgomery 201 121 x–7 13 0

Karen Sickle and Talia Piragas. Faith Persing and Shelby McRae. W–Persing, (19-1). L–Sickle, (16-7).

Top Old Forge hitters: Sickle 1-2, BB. Top Montgomery hitters: Persing 3-3, HR, 2B, RBI, 2 R; McRae 3-4, 2B; Taylor McRae 2-3, HR, RBI, 2 R; Jenna Waring 2-4, RBI, R; Kaylei Snyder 2-4; Sammi Ulrich 1-3, R.

Records: Montgomery 22-1. Old Forge 16-7.

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