ANNVILLE — When Thursday's PIAA Class AA state softball quarterfinal game between Delone Catholic and Holy Redeemer entered the final inning tied at 2-2, the Squirettes were in unfamiliar territory.
The Royals, however, had Delone right where they wanted.
Over the last three weeks, the Squirettes hadn't played in a game decided by fewer than three runs. Redeemer, on the other hand, won its last two games on walk-off hits, including the District 2-AA final and its first round match-up in states on Wednesday.
After Thursday's game, make it three straight walk-off victories for the Royals.
Kaya Swanek delivered a one-out, bases-loaded single to left field, sending Redeemer into the AA state semifinals with a 3-2 win, while sending Delone into the offseason.
"We actually wanted to bring Shayna (Rider) into the infield and play five infielders," Squirettes coach Don Smith said. "But, because of what was going on, we didn't know what to do because we didn't know what they were going to do."
After starting pitcher Cassie Rickrode got the Royals' No. 9 hitter to pop out to second to open the bottom of the seventh, a single by Morgan Bienkowski put the winning run on base. Then, a throwing error gave Redeemer runners on second and third and one out. The heart of the Royals' lineup was due up. So, Smith called for an intentional walk to Brittany Hebda to load the bases and create a force out at any base. Between not bringing in a fifth infielder and having nowhere to put Swanek, Redeemer's best hitter, the writing was on the wall. Swanek drove the first pitch she saw from Rickrode through the hole between shortstop and third to bring in the winning run.
The single was the first time Rickrode failed to strand Royals' base runners in scoring position to end an inning since the fourth. In the fifth and sixth, she kept the game tied at 2-2 after Redeemer got runners to third in both innings, including loading the bases in the sixth.
"I thought she pitched pretty good because that's a good hitting team," Smith said. "When you make a mistake you gotta take advantage of it and that's what they did."
Drawing first blood: Delone drew first blood in the contest, thanks to Rickrode driving in Shelbee Holcomb on a two-out double to give the Squirettes a 1-0 lead after the first inning. Three errors by the Royals in the top of the fourth helped Delone increase its advantage to 2-0 when Mikayla McCleaf came around to score after a throwing error on a fielder's choice.
The Squirettes' two-run lead, however, was short-lived. Back-to-back, extra-base hits by Redeemer in the bottom half of the inning quickly brought the game back to level terms. First, it was Olivia Mennig delivering a two-out triple to cut Delone's lead in half. Then, starting pitcher Kristen Coffay continued the two-out rally by plating Mennig with a double.
"We weren't worried," Rider said. "We just thought we would be able to get some hits and come back, but we just couldn't get those timely hits."
From there, both teams squandered chances to jump ahead in the fifth and sixth innings, leaving runners in scoring position.
Rickrode threw a complete game for the Squirettes, giving up three runs, all earned, on eight hits and two walks, while recording five strikeouts. She was also the only Delone hitter to record more than one hit and also provided the only extra-base hit for her team.
For Redeemer, Mennig had the only multi-hit game, going 2-for-3 with a triple and a single and one run batted in. But, that was more than enough for Coffay, who threw a complete game, surrendering only two runs, one earned, on five hits and no walks, while striking out four.
The Squirettes matched a program mark by reaching the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, but have still never gotten into the final four. They finished the season with a record of 19-5, an impressive mark after getting off to a slow start to the season.
"The start of our season, we weren't looking too good," Rider said. "But, like I said, from the beginning of the season, coming here, it's amazing that we made it this far."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org