South Williamsport wins a classic final against Muncy and captures first District 4 championship since 2014
A dirt cloud hovered around Claire Alexander as she slid home. Through the dust she rose and saw a sea of blue-clad, jubilant teammates running her way.
Down the first-base line, Aleigha Rieppel temporary grew cold on a day when the temperature hovered near 90 degrees. But all teammates felt a similar emotion. It was pure ecstasy as South Williamsport became a district champion for the first time since 2014.
Alexander led off the seventh inning with a single before scoring the winning run on Rieppel’s sacrifice fly as South edged Muncy, 3-2 in a thrilling game to capture the District 4 Class AA championship Monday at Elm Park. Muncy scored two runs in the top of the seventh to tie it before Alexander and Rieppel combined to bring South its first title in eight years and its first at the Class AA level since 2006.
“It was pretty insane. I’ve never been the winning run for this big of a game,” Alexander said. “I knew I couldn’t leave early and had to run my butt off to get there. It was a great feeling sliding in to get the win.”
“I got the chills. I was like, ‘We really just did that.’ It kind of like blew my mind,” Rieppel said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, we actually just won a district championship in softball.’ That’s pretty cool.”
South and Muncy produced a classic championship filled with strong pitching, clutch hitting and some super defense. The Mounties landed the first blow, scoring two runs in the fifth inning. Muncy thundered back in the top of the seventh, but South ultimately landed the knockout blow in this clash which felt like it was a year in the making.
“That’s one of those games nobody deserves to lose. I’m proud of the girls. What you put into it is what you get out of it and they work hard,” South coach Tom O’Malley said. “They’ve gained a lot of experience throughout the season and it showed in a game like that, especially after giving up two runs like that. You don’t know how they’re going to respond, but they responded in the right way.”
South, a team with six freshmen starters, earned a spot in the state tournament and will play the District 2 champion, either Elk Lake or Holy Cross, next Monday at Central Columbia. Muncy (15-5) moves on as well and competes in a play-in game Wednesday at DuBois against the District 10 runner-up, either Reynolds or Seneca.
Both teams showed all game why they are still playing into June. Alexander put on a defensive show at shortstop, winning pitcher Alizabeth Schuler and Nolah Moyer staged an excellent duel and shined in tough spots and both teams produced some timely hits in clutch situations. It was everything one hopes a championship game will be and Muncy made South earn this championship the hard way.
The Indians were down to their last two outs with nobody on base before they revealed both their prowess and character. Chevelle Bauman walked, Alaina Brelsford hit an infield single and freshman Leah Vest came off the bench to produce the hit of her life, ripping a two-run triple down the right-field line.
“When I was talking to them there before the top of the seventh you could see it. They were relaxed; they were excited and you just had that feeling,” Muncy coach Craig Weaver Sr. said. “They were upbeat and they were focused. There’s just something about this team where if they’re nervous they don’t show it and we did what we had to do. I’m really pleased with the way we played.”
Earlier this year, Vest had paid to go on a school trip scheduled for Memorial Day. After Muncy defeated Wyalusing in the semifinals, she changed her plans and would not leave her team. Oh, how she was rewarded.
With runners on first and second, Weaver called on Vest who has surged late this season. The freshman scorched the first pitch see saw down the line and nearly made it all the way home, tying the game with her triple.
“She’s really been hitting the ball well and I just felt like that was the time to have her bat. We rolled the dice and we put her in there and she came through huge,” Weaver said. “It worked out just right.”
Muncy may have staggered South, but the Mounties came fighting back. Schuler made a tremendous play on a bunt dropped between home and the circle a batter later. The freshman dove, looked at Vest, held her there and made a quick throw to first for the second out. First baseman Sage Lorson beat speedy Nicolette Johnson to first base by a step on the next play as South preserved the tie.
One of two senior starters, reliable catcher Olivia Beck being the other, Alexander has provided a spark all season and did so at the perfect time in the bottom of the seventh. She smashed a lead-off single into left field and went to second on an error. A wild pitch put Alexander on third with no outs as Rieppel batted.
Two innings earlier, Rieppel had delivered in a big spot, belting a two-out RBI double before scoring on an error as South went up 2-0. A sacrifice fly might not count as a hit, but Rieppel doing so in the seventh inning is the one she, her family and her teammates likely will remember forever.
After working a 2-1 count, Rieppel lofted the ball into left field. Alexander tagged up and then made the dash of her life, beating the throw and setting off the celebration as South secured that breakthrough championship.
“This has been my goal ever since softball started. It’s so great to be able to accomplish this,” said Rieppel, who also started on soccer and basketball teams which reached district finals. “That last at-bat I just wanted to put the ball in play. I wanted to either find a gap in the infield or find some green somehow and just get the ball in play. Claire is fast. I knew she could come in and make it happen.”
Alexander sure made it happen defensively as well. Take away her two sixth-inning gems and this game likely looks a lot different. Muncy had just one hit on a Bauman fifth-inning bunt before Johnson scorched a one-out laser into the left-center field gap. Johnson easily had a double but hustled and tried for a triple. Center fielder Gianna Godfrey made a perfect relay throw to Alexander and Alexander turned to hit third baseman Lily Reidy with a chest-high laser and retire Johnson.
Izzy Gush and Casey Fry followed with two-out singles. If Alexander does not throw out Johnson, Muncy would have scored at least one run and had the heart of its lineup coming up with one out. The senior leader delivered again when Moyer hit a pop-up into no-man’s land between second base and the pitching circle. Alexander caught the ball a few inches before it hit the ground as South stayed ahead, 2-0.
“It definitely was close (to hitting the ground). I ran as fast as I possibly could,” Alexander said. “Even when she hit it, I thought, “Yeah, that’s down.’ I just busted my butt to get it and I got there in time.”
Both teams face tough opponents moving forward but they also enter states having each excelled in big spots in a championship game. That experience could provide valuable. Whatever happens, both teams produced a fantastic game which had both sides’ fans cheering following its conclusion.
“I’m very proud to be their coach. It was a well-played game and congrats to Muncy. that was a well-coached and well-played game on their part as well,” O’Malley said. “A lot of times when two good teams play it’s one pitch, one play, one swing of the bat. That’s what happened today. Today we were fortunate to have one more play than they did.”
Muncy 000 000 2–2 6 1
South 000 020 1–3 6 0
Nolah Moyer and Taylor Shannon. Alizabeth Schuler and Olivia Beck. W–Schuler, (11-3). L–Moyer, (12-4).
Top Muncy hitters: Leah Vest 1-1, 3B, 2 RBIs; Nicolette Johnson 1-3, 2B; Izzy Gush 1-3; Casey Fry 1-3; Chevelle Bauman 1-2, BB, R; Alaina Brelsford 1-3. Top South hitters: Gianna Goodman 2-3, R; Aleigha Rieppel 1-2, RBI, R; Claire Alexander 1-3, R; Beck 1-3; Lily Reidy 1-3.
Records: South 15-5. Muncy 15-5.