Throughout Tuesday’s WestPAC softball championship game at V.E. Erickson Field, each rally had a counter.
Shade posted runs. Conemaugh Valley responded. Shade pulled further ahead. Conemaugh Valley drew itself right back with the Panthers.
In the end, a last-gasp Blue Jays rally in the seventh came up just a bit short, allowing Shade to claim the WestPAC title with a 10-9 victory.
At the same time, the South division champion wasn’t expecting any less from Conemaugh Valley, which edged Shade 4-3 earlier in the season.
“The mentality was that it was going to be a struggle,” Shade coach Frank Karl said. “We saw them in the regular season and they beat us 4-3. I knew we could beat them, but the girls had to play good ball. We actually hit the ball better than I thought we would. Our girls got a little edgy on certain plays ... I’m proud of them.”
Shade’s opening salvo came in the first when Lexie Rapsky delivered a pair of runs with a one-out double to left, scoring Emma Spinelli and Kaily Karl. Tasha Corradini chased in Rapsky two batters later with a base hit to the left side.
Conemaugh Valley answered in the third, scratching across its first run when Lexi Novak brought in Brooke McCleester with one gone in the frame. After Mikayla Lint’s flyout to center, Kaitlyn Stiffler’s three-run home run, well past the fence in center, put the North champion ahead 4-3.
“We’ve had that situation with some good teams in the WestPAC,” Blue Jays coach Paula McCleester said. “The girls just need to know that they have to do their job.”
It wasn’t long until Shade answered with four runs of its own. Back-to-back singles from Karl and Rapsky ignited the tear with Corradini chasing in Karl with one out. A first-and-third play worked in the Panthers’ favor when Corradini’s dash toward second drew a throw, allowing Rapsky to trot home. Samantha Haynes’ single drove in Corradini and Ott to put Shade ahead 7-4.
“Every time we got a couple, they countered,” Frank Karl said. “They had two blasts over the fence. Mentally that does hurt a team.”
Mikayla Lint pulled Conemaugh Valley within a run with a two-run home run to left right after Melanie Lint reached on a single to right. Shade made it 8-6 as Corradini singled, moved to second as Ott reached on an error and took the next two stations on a wild pitch and a passed ball. A dropped third strike with Jordan Fyock at the plate resulted in Fyock reaching first, but catcher Alex Smith beat Ott as she attempted to score from third.
Mary Angus’ single in the sixth plated Brandi Dobrota while Conemaugh Valley shaved a run off the Panthers’ lead again.
A run-scoring double by Kaily Karl and a groundout from Alexis Medva produced insurance runs for Shade in the sixth.
The nip-and-tuck nature of Tuesday’s game may have shown more benefits to the Blue Jays than the loss would indicate.
“These are the games that you wish the whole season was like,” McCleester said. “When you get to the playoffs, it’s not a big surprise. This was nice. It’s going to get us ready for the playoffs. One team has to win and it wasn’t us. Hats off to Shade, they deserved it.”
Conemaugh Valley wasted little time in getting a rally in order in the seventh as Melanie Lint singled and scored on a Mikayla Lint double to deep center. Allison Kelley chased in Mikayla Lint with a two-out single up the middle. Dobroto reached first on a dropped throw to Fyock at first, an error that allowed Kelley to move to third. Five pitches later, Natasha Meck, who started the game at pitcher before giving way to Lexi Meck and reentering in the seventh, coaxed a popup to Fyock at first to seal the win for Shade.
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.