NEWVILLE — "Going out with a bang."
The words of Eastern York center fielder Haidyn Shaffer, when she and her fellow seniors gathered at home plate to take a photo on Friday, accurately summed up last week's experience for the Golden Knights’ softball team.
Almost 24 hours after securing a district semifinal win on Thursday, sixth-seeded Eastern York (14-7) celebrated its first-ever District 3 Class 4-A softball championship with a 1-0 win against fourth-seeded James Buchanan (15-7) on Friday at Big Spring High School.
“I am speechless, and for me, that is next to impossible,” Eastern York coach Brad Rohrbaugh said. “It was a total team effort.”
Close call: For a few seconds in the bottom of the seventh, it looked like Eastern York’s championship dreams were crushed, just like the ball hit by James Buchanan infielder Maddie Spencer.
After Maelynn Leber cruised through six innings on the mound for the Golden Knights with just one hit allowed, she found herself in a tough spot. A single, an error and a sacrifice bunt put the tying and go-ahead runs on second and third with one out.
Rohrbaugh elected to intentionally walk Rockets infielder Lindsey Meyers, which allowed for a force out at home and a double play opportunity.
James Buchanan infielder Maddie Spencer stepped to the plate with a chance to win the game with a hit. Spencer battled Leber in her at-bat before she launched a ball down the left-field foul line that was so close to staying in play and ending the game that it sparked a celebration by the James Buchanan dugout and fan section.
Closing the deal: After the home plate umpire called the ball foul, emotions were running high and the bases were still loaded. Leber said she never doubted that the ball was foul, but used that moment to motivate her to shut down the late rally attempt by the Rockets.
“That really fueled my fight to finish off the game,” Leber said. “I wanted to just end it there and bring home the championship. So, that’s exactly what we did.”
Leber responded with her second strikeout of the game.
Needing one final out, Leber forced a softly hit ground ball, which was grabbed by infielder Katie Lehman and fired over to first base in time to beat the runner and secure the victory. Lehman and multiple Golden Knights came up with crucial defensive plays behind Leber to earn the championship.
“My defense is awesome,” Leber said. “Katie Lehman and (infielder) Kenni (Buchmyer) will do anything to keep that ball on the infield.”
Felix delivers big hit: Although their defense was locked in and Leber delivered her second shutout in 48 hours, the Golden Knights needed someone to come through with one big hit to put them ahead against the brilliant pitching of the Rockets’ Jenna Mongold.
Having previously thrown a no-hitter earlier this season, Mongold delivered another big performance on Friday. Mongold struck out 13 and allowed four hits in seven innings and added a hit of her own at the plate.
In the sixth, Eastern outfielder Morgan Dobbeck singled and found her way to third base with two outs after a passed ball and flyout. Leber, who was 2-for-2 at the plate, was intentionally walked.
After she was lifted for a pinch runner, Leber had some words of encouragement for infielder Kelsey Felix before her big at-bat.
“I pulled her aside and said: ‘You have to be clutch. Be a leader. Just get a single,’” Leber said.
The pep talk worked. Felix delivered the game-winning RBI with a single to right field that scored Dobbeck and gave the Golden Knights all the scoring they needed, thanks to Leber’s performance on the mound.
“Just take a deep breath. Don’t think about, just do it,” Felix said of her mental approach heading into the at-bat.
On to states: Leber said that winning the district title and picking up victories over the teams seeded second, third and fourth in the Class 4-A district field will help them heading into state playoffs.
“It’s a nice transition into states because we’re going to be playing some good teams,” Leber said. “It helps to fuel us.”
As he and his team set their sights on the PIAA playoffs, which begin Monday, Rohrbaugh said his players can enjoy the victory for a little bit before preparations for another addition to the trophy case can begin.
“There’s a lot more memories still to be made,” Rohrbaugh said. “We’ll celebrate going home and have a great time, but after that, it’s back to what we do every day. Practice.”
Eastern will face District 2 4-A runner-up Honesdale in the first round of the state tournament at 4:30 p.m. Monday at York College.
Chambersburg 5, Dallastown 4 (9 innings): At Cumberland Valley, Dallastown's hopes for PIAA Class 6-A state berth fell just short in an extra-inning loss in the 6-A third-place game.
The Wildcats plated two runs in the top of the seventh to erase a 4-2 deficit and send the game into extra frames, but Chambersburg scored in the bottom of the ninth to earn the walk-off win and the state berth.
Kelsie Merriman went the distance for Dallastown and didn't allow an earned run. She struck out four and walked two. The Wildcats committed three costly errors behind her.
Barbara Black had two hits and run scored for Dallastown, while Ashton Crump homered with two RBIs and two runs scored. Hannah Pierce also homered for Dallastown and drove in two runs, while Allison Hoffman doubled. Crump's two-run homer in the seventh sent the game to extra innings.
Fourth-seeded Dallastown finished at 15-8. Third-seeded Chambersburg improved to 17-6.
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.