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Tri-Valley rallies in 8th inning to beat Montgomery in PIAA quarters

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Faith Persing (17) reacts as she and Taylor McRae (12) score off a double by Shelby McRea during the Class A quarterfinal game against Tri-Valley on Thursday at Central Columbia. Tri-Valley won 4-3.

LIME RIDGE — Montgomery coach Chris Glenn hates softball graduation day more than losing. That was the only thing upsetting him following a heartbreaking Class A state quarterfinal loss Thursday afternoon.

Glenn has coached these girls since early last March and now that ride is over. But what a ride it was.

And his team graduated with honors.

Montgomery erased a one-run, seventh-inning deficit and took a late lead, but Tri-Valley rallied and Brittany Rice hit a walk-off single as the Bulldogs won, 4-3, and ended a memorable Red Raider season. Tri-Valley tied the game in the bottom of the seventh and won a game with enough twists and turns to make Stanley Kubrick smile to advance to the state semifinals. The Bulldogs will play District 3 champion Halifax on Monday at a time and date to be determined for a spot in the state final.

Winning pitcher Emma Maurer threw a five-hitter, struck out eight and stranded 10 Montgomery runners.

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Lady Raiders gather behind the dugout before they head to the field to take on the Tri-Valley Bulldogs in the PIAA Class A quarterfinal game on Thursday at Central Columbia. Tri-Valley won 4-3.

Montgomery closed one of the best seasons in program history with a 22-2 record. It captured its first district championship since 2010 and reached the state quarterfinals for just the second time. Its 22 wins also were the program’s second most.

“The saddest part for me here is not that we’re not going on. Obviously, I would like to, but the saddest part is now it’s like all my kids are leaving for college and I don’t see them anymore,” Glenn said. “I’m used to seeing them and I love seeing them because each one is different and unique and I appreciate that relationship with them and hearing about the big things that are happening in their lives. Seeing them work and get better, I’m going to miss that. I hate this time of year. I absolutely hate it because you’re so close to them. I won the coaching lottery by getting here and I treasure every day I get to be their coach.”

Montgomery collected so many tresurable moments this season and added some more in defeat. Faith Persing threw a gutsy six-hitter, struck out eight, and became the program’s single-season strikeout leader with 260. Shelby McRae hit a two-run, go-ahead single in the top of the seventh. Outfielders Courtney Smith and Kaylei Snyder added impressive running catches.

It was not the result Montgomery wanted, but how it played the game reflected how it reached the state’s Elite 8. That is why senior second baseman Morgen Tupper addressed her teammates before Glenn did following the game and thanked them all for this season. Montgomery did not win the state championship, but it did produce a run its players will never forget.

“This was a great season. We worked our butts all season to put all those wins up,” Shelby McRae said. “We only lost two but we’re going to go back next year and try our hardest to get to the point we are now and farther.”

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Faith Persing (17) and Taylor McRae (12) react as Montgomery scores the go-ahead run off a double by Shelby McRea during the Class A quarterfinal game against Tri-Valley on Thursday at Central Columbia. Tri-Valley won 4-3.

“This reinforced everything we did all season. We don’t give up, we don’t get too high or too low, and we come back when we need to,” Glenn said. “We fought and we fought hard. I can’t be happier with the team. They did everything I asked. I can’t ask for anything more from this team. They did their job.”

So did Tri-Valley.

This was a back-and-forth battle between state contenders who have 45 combined wins as well as victories against Class AAA and AA semifinalists. Montgomery struck first, scoring a run in the top of the first, but Tri-Valley (23-2) scored in the third and fifth innings to go up, 2-1. McRae’s clutch hit put Montgomery back in front before Tri-Valley tied it in the bottom of the seventh on Grace Header’s one-out single. Persing then collected her 260th strikeout this year and induced a pop-up, leaving the winning run at third base.

Kaylei Snyder led off the eighth with a double, moved to third on Tupper’s bunt, and momentum again shifted toward Montgomery. But for the third time, Maurer left at least two runners in scoring position, stranding Snyder and striking out the next two hitters. Maurer left eight of Montgomery’s 10 runners in scoring position and also limited the damage in the first inning when she left the bases loaded with one out.

Sydney Schley opened Tri-Valley’s eighth with a single and reached second on an error. That set the stage for Rice who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. The catcher knew redemption was just a swing away and produced the hit of her life, driving the first pitch she saw into left field. Schley slid in with winning run before being mobbed by jubilant teammates.

“It felt amazing,” Rice said. “I was thinking about how those other bats don’t matter. That’s in the past and this is the time to bring that bat out.”

Tri-Valley, averaging nine runs per game, brought out the bats over the last two innings against one of the state’s best pitchers. Persing struck out five through the first two innings, but Tri-Valley effectively put the ball in play after that and struck out just three more times. Persing threw another strong game in the 90-degree heat, but Tri-Valley did not flinch after it went down 3-2.

“We always bring our bats out. We see a lot of good pitchers during the season and no matter how good the pitcher is we find a way to put our bats into the ball,” Rice said. “It shows us that we never, ever need to give up on anything because anything can happen at any time.”

Montgomery proved that in the previous inning. Maurer had surrendered just two hits from the second through sixth innings and Persing quickly was down 0-2 when leading off the seventh. But She stayed back on a two-strike chane-up and belted it to left field for a double. Kaitlyn Raemsch bunted Persing to third and Taylor McRae walked. Like Rice, Shelby McRae had struck out her last two times up. Like Rice, she did not care.

McRae drilled a 2-2 pitch down the left-field line as her sister, Taylor, and Persing scored. In a flash, Montgomery had the lead and a Final 4 appearance in its sights.

“When I was up to bat I thought, ‘I need to get a ball through.’ That’s exactly where I wanted to hit it and I hit it there and we got those runs in,” McRae said. “I was so excited. I knew I had to get those through and I was standing on second just going, ‘Yes!'”

Montgomery was excited in the first inning as well. Persing led off the last two games with home runs but this time was hit by a pitch. She then again scored the game’s first run. Persing went from first to third on a Kaitlyn Raemsch bunt before forcing a throw to first on Taylor McRae’s ensuing bunt. Persing beating the ensuing throw home to put Montgomery up, 1-0.

Tri-Valley tied the game in the third when Header delivered the team’s first hit with a double. She scored on Gianna Poletti’s one-out single. An error and a two-out infield hit into no-man’s land gave Tri-Valley a 2-1, fifth-inning lead. Hope Colahan reached second on an error but Persing was a strike from stranding her on third with one out. Ally Huhn then hit a soft pop-up that fell between the pitching circle and second base and her infield single put Tri-Valley up for the first time.

Montgomery was down but not out. The Raiders fought off the ropes and took the lead. They never really were knocked out, but Tri-Valley secured the decision. Not that defeat did anything to diminish from Montgomery’s season.

“I’m tickled to death with the season that we had and the growth that we had,” Glenn said. “I cannot be prouder. I am a very happy coach.”

Tri-Valley 4, Montgomery 3

Montgomery 100 000 20–3 5 2

Tri-Valley 001 010 11–4 6 1

Faith Persing and Shelby McRae. Emma Maurer and Brittany Rice. W–Maurer, (11-2). L–Persing, (19-2).

Top Montgomery hitters: Kaylei Snyder 2-4, SB; Persing 1-2, 2B, 2 R; McRae 1-3, BB, 2 RBIs; Courtney Smith 1-3. Top Tri-Valley hitters: Grace Header 2-3, RBI, R; Gianna Poletti 1-4, RBI, SB; Sydney Schley 1-4, R; Rice 1-4, RBI; Ally Huhn 1-3, RBI.

Records: Tri-Valley (23-2); Montgomery (22-2).

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