BELLWOOD - The aim of the Bellwood-Antis High School softball team this season is to take that step to the next level.
The Lady Blue Devils are very close. However, as was evidenced by Thursday afternoon's clash at a windy Martin Field, Claysburg-Kimmel is still the queen of the Inter-County Conference North Division.
The visiting Lady Bulldogs battled back from a three-run deficit in the last two innings, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs after having two out and no one on in the top of the seventh, to fend off B-A's challenge to its division supremacy, 4-3, to stay undefeated at 8-0 overall.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Claysburg-Kimmel’s Kala Brumbaugh scores under the tag of Bellwood-Antis catcher Jacqueline Finn.
"This was big for our confidence and also just to keep things on track. They really have stepped up their game in the last couple of years since I was a freshman. They've gotten so much better,'' said C-K shortstop Lydia Fleck, who had singles in each of her last two at-bats, scoring a run and driving in two. "Today, we didn't start until later in the game, but, in earlier games, we've come out strong and gotten teams hanging their heads early. This showed we can actually battle back. It's huge, because playoffs are going to be this type of games.''
"I was excited about seeing them come through in adversity. That's the thing with a tradition of winning: We never think we are out of the game,'' Lady Bulldogs coach Mike Barbarini said. "It was big for us, because now we have a couple-game lead in the division. And I know it was a big game for them, because they want to beat Claysburg. I could tell.''
Bellwood came ever so close to accomplishing that task, too, scoring twice in the second and another run in the third when catcher Jacqueline Finn doubled for her second hit and crossed the plate on pitcher Taylor Payne's single. In the top-half of that inning, Emily Nagle's laser throw from center field gunned down Abby Kulick at the plate to squelch a potential Lady Bulldog threat.
Claysburg, though, cut its deficit to one run in the sixth when Kala Brumbaugh and Fleck started off with singles. Fleck's hit brought Brumbaugh in just under the tag after another great Nagle throw, and the Lady Bulldog shortstop scored on a throwing error.
That looked like it might be the end of the Claysburg rally, as Payne retired the first two hitters in the top of the seventh. Mallory Cox, however, reached on an error, and Ronette Claar, Brumbaugh and Fleck followed with consecutive singles, the last coming with the bases loaded. Claar, the winning pitcher who struck out 11 in a four-hit effort and also had three singles on her own behalf, put the Lady Bulldogs ahead when Scarlett Kirkpatrick couldn't come up with the ball cleanly after courtesy runner Rachel Walter scored on Fleck's single to left.
"I knew we would be able to come back, but we were really going to have to push ourselves to come back,'' Claar said. "We have faith in ourselves. We know we can hit the ball. We just have to come out and do it.''
Claar retired B-A in order in the bottom of the seventh. It was a hard loss for the Lady Devils to take: Payne was consoled by her father, Bellwood coach Jim Payne, behind the dugout well after the last out, while Finn gave Nagle a hug.
Coach Payne, though, saw the bright side after his team dipped to 5-2 overall and 4-2 in the division.
"Five years ago, two years ago, one year ago, we weren't even bawling over these games. You can see the growth and where we're headed. We're obviously going in the right direction,'' Payne said. "We have to come back, work harder, and we play them again.''
That's fine with Barbarini, who welcomes some company in the ranks of the ICC North elite.
"It's good for us and for our league, because it makes us stronger going into the playoffs,'' Barbarini said. "Every game, we have to play, especially now that they've stepped up to be one of the contenders.''
Game notes: Only two of the runs in the game were earned. ... Claysburg, now 6-0 in the division, finished with nine hits. ... Both teams return to action today. Claysburg travels to Juniata Valley, while Bellwood hosts Southern Huntingdon.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (4): Claar p 413, Brumbaugh cf 412, Fleck ss 412, Claycomb 3b 401, Ritchey rf 300, Coho dh 300, Echard 1b 000, Ickes 2b 300, Kulick lf 100, LeMaster ph 100, Cox c 301, Walter cr 010. Totals - 30-4-9.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (3): Wolfe 2b 401, Nagle cf 400, Finn c 412, M. McCaulley cr-ph 100, Shawley 1b 200, Payne p 211, Morgan cr-pr 000, Snyder ss 210, Decker 3b 300, Fraser dp 200, Kirkpatrick lf 000, Davinsizer rf 200. Totals - 26-3-4.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Claysburg-Kimmel000 002 2-4 9 4
Bellwood-Antis021 000 0-3 4 3
E-Claar, Brumbaugh, Fleck 2, Shawley, Decker, Kirkpatrick. 2B-Finn. RBI-Fraser Payne, Fleck 2. SAC-Snyder. SB-Claar, Fraser.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Claar (W)-7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 SO.
Bellwood-Antis: Payne (L)-7 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO.
WP-Claar, Payne. PB-Cox 2.
Umpires: Dave Adams (plate), Eugene Parker (bases).
Records: Claysburg-Kimmel (8-0, 6-0 ICC North); Bellwood-Antis (5-2, 4-2 ICC North).