ROYERSFORD — All year long, the Dallastown softball team didn't have an inning like Monday's sixth frame.
Batter after batter came to the plate. Hit after hit extended the inning. And run after run quickly put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, it was an inning they'd like to forget.
After cutting Perkiomen Valley's lead to just 2-1 going into the bottom of the sixth of Monday's PIAA Class AAAA first-round state game, Dallastown looked to finally have some momentum on its side. All it had to do was get through the bottom half of the frame and it would have three outs to try and extend its season.
However, the District 1 champion Vikings had other ideas, quickly dispelling any thoughts of a potential upset, scoring eight runs on five hits and two Wildcat errors to turn the game into a rout, eventually winning 10-2 and ending Dallastown's season.
"We gave up more runs in that inning than we did all year," Wildcats coach Howie Merriman said. "It's certainly disappointing."
The inning opened with an error, and then a bunt single to quickly put starting pitcher Jaelynn Harbold in a jam. Following a walk to load the bases, still with nobody out, Perkiomen Valley got an insurance run on a second Dallastown error to make it 3-1. Then, Ana Bruni lined a double down the left-field line to plate two more, which was followed by a two-run single right after her. Before Harbold could even record an out, it was 7-1 Vikings. To cap off the huge PV inning, Jordan Sell launched a three-run homer to bring the score to 10-1 and make the Wildcats' season all but over.
Dallastown did tack on a second run to close out the game in the seventh, but at that point it was little consolation after the way the sixth inning unfolded.
"They didn't give up," Merriman said about his team's ability to score a run in the seventh. "We pushed a run across. We had some good line drives and I thought that if we attacked more throughout the game, we would've had more success. I thought we were a little hesitant at times."
The Vikings struck first in the bottom of the second, stringing together three straight two-out singles to open the game's scoring. To Harbold's credit, she battled in the circle, fighting some control issues early, but kept the Wildcats in the game for much of the evening by constantly stranding runners and escaping jams.
Perkiomen Valley got an insurance marker in the bottom the fifth to make it 2-0, and with the way the Wildcats' offense had gone cold over the final two games of the District 3 tournament and in Monday's game, it seemed like enough. But, Dallastown answered, with Kelsie Merriman opening the top of the sixth with a single. When Harbold found the left-center-field gap, the Wildcats had second and third with nobody away.
Kayla Flemmens drove in Merriman with a deep sacrifice fly to center to cut the deficit in half and Harbold advanced to third on the drive. But, with two chances to get her home, the Wildcats failed, squandering their best chance to tie the game and setting up the devastating bottom half of the inning.
Slumping at the wrong time: The loss in the first round of the state tournament ends the Dallastown season at 18-5.
At the beginning of the year, the seniors on the team had lofty expectations for the season. As the only York-Adams League representative in the state tournament, it could be deemed a successful campaign. However, after entering the District 3 tournament at 16-2 and then winning their first two games of that tournament, the Wildcats faltered in their biggest games, ending the year on a three-game losing streak. In the process, they only scored two runs in that span, both in Monday's defeat.
Despite making it to this point in the season, Merriman understands the skid is a tough way for the senior class to go out, but also hopes it can serve as a learning experience for the girls who will be returning next season.
"Here is a team that went 16-2 and we end on a three-game skid and that's very disappointing," he said. "But, each game, we were in it. Each game we had a chance to win and we just failed to do it. For the underclassmen, you learn from it. You learn what this environment is like, and then for the seniors, they take what they can from it and get better as they move onto the college level."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org