When the ball left Hailey Orwig's bat on Tuesday evening, the only question appeared to be would the Red Lion senior end up at second base or third base?
Orwig's drive into the right-center field gap came in the bottom of the third inning with two runners on base and the Lions trailing Lower Dauphin by two runs.
Red Lion's players, coaches and fans had to be thinking tie game, but Lower Dauphin center fielder Elaine Gross had another idea.
Gross, running at full speed, reached out and caught the ball before it could land to rob Orwig of an extra-base hit. She then threw the ball back into the infield to double up one of the baserunners, who was unable to get back to first base in time.
Gross' catch, which allowed the Falcons to maintain their two-run advantage, was the biggest one of the day. Lower Dauphin went on to defeat Red Lion, 7-4, in the opening round of the District 3 Class AAAA Softball Tournament.
"Elaine is amazing," Lower Dauphin head coach Steve Alcorn said. "She runs like a deer, is a four-year starter for us, hits the ball and plays good defense."
Alcorn used two pitchers to secure the victory. Steph Knaub pitched the first three innings, and Tiff Grubb worked the final four innings.
"I thought they were getting to Steph," Alcorn said. "I wanted to show them something different."
Red Lion collected 12 hits against the duo, but it stranded seven runners. The Lions were retired in order just one time (the sixth inning).
"All year long, we've been able to get the clutch hit," Lions' coach Troy Eveler said. "When we hit the ball hard tonight, they made plays. The play in center field, it was a huge play for them."
The Lions not only lost a game, they lost their starting pitcher, Katie Shultz, to an injury with two outs in the top of the second inning. Shultz twisted her right knee trying to field a hard-hit ball off the bat of Maddie Lilliock. The Red Lion junior went down and was helped off the field.
"I have to call and see how she is," Eveler said. "She said she felt it (the knee) pop."
Mackenzie Rumburg replaced Shultz. The senior right-hander allowed only two earned runs (three altogether) in 51/3 innings of relief work. Rumburg also supplied a single and RBI to the Lions' attack. Rumburg's teammate, Ali Posey, went 3-for-4, while Taylor Gould and Paige Taylor delivered two hits apiece.
The York-Adams team scored two runs in the second inning on consecutive singles by Orwig, Megan Chapman and Kelsey Clever, and a double by Taylor. The Lions went down fighting, scoring two runs in their final at-bat of the season. Ali Posey doubled and Taylor and Taylor Gould beat out infield hits in the seventh.
Knaub, Maddie Kotchey and Kaylee Stover stroked two hits each for Lower Dauphin, which never trailed following its four-run second inning.
The Falcons, who improved to 16-6, will take on No. 1 seed Cumberland Valley in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Red Lion's season closed at 12-7.
Orwig, Rumburg, Clever, Alexa Taylor and Megan Greenplate played their final game for the Lions.
"When I took over, the Red Lion softball program was struggling," Eveler said. "This group in general did a very good job of changing the perception of Red Lion softball."
The five seniors played prominent roles in Red Lion earning 21 victories the past two seasons.
"My sophomore year was Coach Troy's first year, and he was the one who actually changed this program" Clever said. "I'll remember the girls and Coach Troy. We always had a bond."
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin firstname.lastname@example.org.