GRANTHAM — Spring Grove's softball team turned a negative into a positive, and that's the reason the Rockets are one victory away from their first-ever District 3 title.
"When we played Central (York) on Senior Night, we realized we could keep up with the best," Spring Grove leadoff hitter and shortstop Briana DiCandeloro said. "We realized we could go far."
Since losing to Central 2-1 in 10 innings in a game that decided the York-Adams Division I title, the Rockets have recorded three straight impressive victories to reach the district Class 5-A championship game.
The fifth-seeded Rockets (18-5) have outscored three opponents, 22-4, in the district run. They delivered their most impressive offensive performance so far in Tuesday's semifinal game at Messiah College by defeating top-seeded Lampeter-Strasburg, 10-3.
Spring Grove will take on 10th-seeded Cedar Cliff (15-8) for the title on Thursday at a site and time to be determined. Cedar Cliff beat third-seeded Donegal (20-3) in the other semifinal on Tuesday, 9-5.
The York County team collected 12 hits and broke open a close game by scoring five times in the fourth inning.
"The last couple of games, we did hit, but it was inconsistent," Spring Grove head coach Mark Hull said. "Today, we put the ball in play, and we hit the ball hard."
DiCandeloro supplied three hits, drove in two runs and scored two runs. Her teammate, Hannah Shaffer, put up three hits in four at bats and scored two runs.
"We knew it was going to be a close game, so I knew I had to make contact," DiCandeloro said. "All of us were pumped up and really excited," she added when asked about the five-run inning.
The hitting was only part of the story for the Rockets.
Their fielding was solid, and Spring Grove pitchers Julia Wivell and Hailey Kessinger combined to limit the Pioneers to a single run in the fourth inning and two runs in the fifth inning. Just one of the runs in the fifth was earned.
"Defensively, we've been solid all year," Hull said. "We've been making plays and we've been doing the routine plays."
DiCandeloro, center fielder Bryn Sporer and left fielder Heather Baker contributed catches that were anything but routine.
DiCandeloro, running with her back to home plate, made a grab to close the third inning. Sporer turned in a running catch in the gap during the fifth inning and Baker recorded the next-to-last-out of the game with a running catch down the left-field line.
"Sporer's catch saved two runs," Hull said. "Bryn's so fast, sometimes she'll overrun it. She will get to the ball. I have no problem with my outfielders. They have great speed."
Sporer, Caraline Cornman, Hannah Gartrell, Chloe Sullivan and Kessinger all drove in runs for the Rockets.
Kessinger relieved Wivell with two runners on base and no outs in the fourth inning. Spring Grove was winning, 7-1, when Kessinger entered the game.
"We did it against Lower Dauphin (brought in Kessinger to relieve Wivell) and it worked brilliantly," Hull said. "Julia is the type of pitcher who will throw hard and move it (the ball) a little bit. But, once they (opposing hitters) get around to the second or third time, they start getting her timing a little bit. Hailey, she gets a little bit more movement, has different speeds, and it kind of throws them off a little bit."
Neither Wivell, one of just two seniors on the roster, nor Kessinger, a sophomore, walked a batter.
Hitting, fielding and pitching. The whole package is coming together at the right time for the Rockets, who will seek to make team history on Thursday.
"I was very confident that we would go far," Hull said. "Since they made a 6A (class), I think we are playing competition that is more our caliber. It (expanding from four classes to six) was a huge plus because we are a solid team."
Lampeter-Strasburg fell to 20-3.
Kennard-Dale 2, East Pennsboro 1: At Millersville, the second-seeded Rams (17-3) moved to the District 3 Class 4-A championship game with a win over third-seeded East Pennsboro (16-3). K-D will take on either ninth-seeded James Buchanan (11-10) or fourth-seeded Eastern York (15-5) in Thursday's championship game, which will be played at a site and time to be determined. The JB-Eastern game was postponed Tuesday until Wednesday, at Big Spring at 4:30 p.m.
Penn Manor 3, Central York 2 (suspended, top of third inning): At Hershey, Central York's District 3 Class 6-A semifinal contest was halted because of rain with the Panthers trailing in the top of the third. It will be resumed at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hershey. The second-seeded Panthers are 22-1. Third-seeded Penn Manor is 19-1.
Reach Dick VanO'Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.