GLEN ROCK — Central York softball coach Shane Walker knows he has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pitching.
He has as many as three quality arms that he can put into a game at any time, whether it be Rachel Butler, Courtney Coppersmith or Cheyenne Miller.
So, going into Monday's York-Adams League semifinal match-up against Division III champion Littlestown at Susquehannock High School, it was always his intention to use his pitching depth to the team's advantage. It turned out to be a plan that worked to near perfection.
Walker turned to the senior, Butler, to start Monday's contest, getting the Panthers through the first four innings before she handed the ball over to the sophomore, Coppersmith, to close things out. While things got dicey for Coppersmith in the sixth and seventh innings, she ultimately did her job, getting Central past Littlestown, 3-2, and into Tuesday's league championship game against Susquehannock. The Warriors won the other semifinal over Delone Catholic at Spring Grove, 7-2.
The plan was simple for Walker and his two pitchers — have Butler hold the hard-hitting Thunderbolts (16-3) in check for the first two times through the order and then give them something different to look at once Coppersmith came in.
"They're a very good hitting team," Walker said about Littlestown. "I think any pitcher that they see over and over and over again, they're going to get their timing together, so we're really fortunate to have two quality pitchers to do that split — even though they're both lefties — they're two different types of pitchers."
After working her way through the top of the first, allowing one run on two hits, Butler quickly settled into a groove. She was instantly picked up by a two-run bottom of the frame by her teammates, which gave her a lead that she could build on. After the opening inning, Butler worked through her next three, allowing just two base runners, one on a walk and one on a hit by pitch in the second, before retiring the side in order in both the third and fourth innings. By the time she was relieved going into the top of the fifth, the Panthers led 3-1 and were about to turn it over to the hard-tossing sophomore.
"I knew she'd be fine and we split games (all the time)," Butler said about being taken out for Coppersmith. "I think it's better that way, because then when we go to districts, we have two strong pitchers rather than one, because if I'm off one day, you're screwed."
Coppersmith was sharp in the fifth, putting up a third straight 1-2-3 inning for Central (20-1), before running into trouble in the final two frames. After getting two quick outs in the top of the sixth, she allowed four straight singles to pull the Thunderbolts to within 3-2. A strikeout got her out of that jam.
Then, in the seventh, she allowed a lead-off single to Jill Gauthier, who advanced all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt when no one cover third base. With the heart of the Littlestown order due up with just one out and the tying run on third, Coppersmith dialed up some of her best stuff over those final two at-bats, recording back-to-back strikeouts to close out the win and send the Panthers into Tuesday's title game.
"The last two innings were a little difficult," Coppersmith said. "But, I depended on my defense and they were there to back me up when I let a ball into the outfield. ... So, I had my defense to back me up and then they had the confidence in me, even though I messed up the one play, to come back and shut them down."
In the circle, Butler earned the win, allowing one run on two hits, two walks and two strikeouts in four innings, while Coppersmith picked up the nine-out save, allowing one run on five hits and four strikeouts in three innings. Thunderbolts' starter McKenzie Somers pitched a complete game, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits, with two walks and three strikeouts.
Coppersmith added a double and a run scored at the plate for Central, while Briannah Dobson roped a two-run single in the bottom of the first to record her team's only two RBIs of the game. The third Panthers run was scored on a wild pitch in the top of the second, with Erin Cabry scoring from third.
Kaitlin Yealy and Kelsie Dews drove in both of the Littlestown runs.
The Division I champion Panthers will look to win back-to-back league titles on Tuesday and their fourth in five years when they take on the Division II champion Warriors. Central defeated Susquehannock in the only previous meeting this season between the two teams, 7-2.
"(The league playoffs) is huge," Walker said about defending the 2015 title. "You're representing your school. You put the banner up in the school, that's important to these kids. We talk about it all the time, one of the things that separates travel ball from school ball is, you're going to come back here 15 years from now with your kid and say, 'Look what I did.'"
Staub shines for Susquehannock: Maddy Staub pitched a complete-game four-hitter in Susquehannock's 7-2 triumph over Delone.
She struck out six.
It was the exact same score as the two teams' regular-season meeting.
The Warriors (16-3) broke open a 3-1 game by plating three runs in the fourth to take control.
Mallory Lebo paced the Susquehannock offense by going 2 for 3 with a walk and three stolen bases. Kristi Langhans and Ally Kerr added RBI singles for the winners.
Delone fell to 16-3.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.