When there isn't much separating two high school softball teams, the slightest error can be the difference.
Such was the case Tuesday afternoon in a District 3-AAAA semifinal contest between Dallastown and Penn Manor.
The Comets and Wildcats each managed just three hits during a quick affair played at York College. But a dropped ball that allowed a Penn Manor runner to move from second to third with one out proved to be pivotal.
Samantha Duplissey scored the only run of the game on a ground out to second by teammate Addie Long in the second inning to help the Comets earn a hard-fought 1-0 triumph.
Penn Manor improved to 22-3 en route to earning the program’s first-ever District 3 title game appearance. They will face Chambersburg, a 3-0 winner over Lower Dauphin, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Lebanon Valley College.
Dallastown (18-3) will face Lower Dauphin in a third-place contest at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Millersville University. That contest is just for seeding purposes. Both Dallastown and Lower Dauphin have already clinched PIAA state playoff berths.
“That’s what they’ve been doing all year,” Wildcat coach Howie Merriman said of Penn Manor. “Their pitcher (Brittany Hook) did another great job in the circle today.”
Hook kept a powerful Dallastown lineup in check with an array of pitches to all areas of the strike zone. She was particularly effective early on in getting the Wildcats to chase pitches above the belt.
“We were (chasing),” Merriman said. “And it took us a few innings to settle down. It’s just like we do in practice … high-low, pitch-speed. We thought we prepped for it, but we were a little anxious in the first couple of innings. We got a few hits toward the end, but the game just wasn’t long enough.”
Dallastown managed to advance a runner past first base just once in the contest. That came in the third inning after Madisyn Johnson singled with one out. She was pushed to second after Lyndee Anders drew a walk with two outs, but Jaelynn Harbold — arguably the team’s best clutch hitter — was retired on a popup to the infield.
The only other real threat against Hook came in the sixth. Maggie Noll ripped a single to left to begin the frame. Anders then tried to bunt her over, but fouled off the first pitch. After the corner infielders moved up, Anders swung away and hit a deep fly ball to left that was caught near the foul line.
“The corners were kind of playing back on that play, so we wanted to try to take advantage of getting her over,” Merriman said of his decision to bunt on the first pitch. “... Lyndee is my hottest hitter, my No. 2 hitter, and I didn’t really want to bunt her a second time. She’s a .500 hitter, so I wanted to take my shots with her.”
Harbold then hit a grounder to short that resulted in a force out of Noll at second before Danielle Ludwig lined out to left to end the inning.
“That’s how the game goes sometimes,” Merriman said.
Lost in the outcome was another terrific performance by Harbold in the circle. The senior struck out four.
“What I was impressed with, was that she kept that ball down all game long,” Penn Manor coach Dave Stokes said of Harbold. “We didn’t really see a whole lot of pitches at the belt or up, ones that the kids could really drive. And most girls do struggle with low pitches.”
Hook was the only player with two hits. She finished with a single and double. Abi Busswood collected the only other hit for the Comets with a double.
Johnson, Noll and Kelsie Merriman collected Dallastown’s three hits.
Kutztown 1, Delone Catholic 0: At Millersville, the Squirettes fell in a District 3-AA semifinal. As a result, Delone's season came to a close. The Squirettes won't be able to defend their District 3-AA championship. Delone came in seeded No. 2, while Kutztown was seeded No. 3. A fifth-inning run by Kutztown was the only scoring in the game. Delone finished at 17-4. Kutztown improved to 16-6. Delone managed just four hits in the game off Kutztown freshman Katie Calkins, who struck out three and walked five. Squirettes pitcher Cassie Rickrode took the tough-luck, complete-game loss, allowing just five hits and one unearned run. She struck out six without a walk. Katie Laughman doubled for Delone. Kutztown advances to Thursday's District 3-AA title contest against No. 4 seed Pequea Valley, which defeated No. 1 seed Brandywine Heights in the other AA semifinal, 1-0. The title contest is set for 6:30 p.m. at Millersville University.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.