WILLOW HILL - One wild inning proved to be the difference in the Inter-County Conference championship softball game on Friday.
Fannett-Metal eventually fell, 6-2, while hosting undefeated Claysburg-Kimmel, but not without some excitement. The Bulldogs sent 11 batters to the plate during the second inning, and scored all six of their runs as the Tigers struggled to make clean plays, committing two errors.
"It was a bad inning," said Fannett-Metal pitcher Blaire Lauthers, who gave up three earned runs while striking out seven and walking none. "It happens. You've just gotta focus and go get the next batter out."
Brooke Ritchey led off the scoring drive for Claysburg (20-0) by reaching on an error. After stealing second and advancing on a single by Madison Ickes, she was driven home by a Kiersten Coho infield hit. Mallory Cox followed with an RBI single of her own, and scored on a center-field single by Lydia Fleck.
With the bases loaded, Hannah Claycomb ripped a pitch into the right-centerfield gap to score two more and give her team a 6-0 lead.
"We executed really well in that inning," Bulldogs coach Mike Barbarini said. "We hit the ball when we needed to score runs. They're a solid team and their pitcher did a good job; she's the best we've seen this year. She stepped back up and composed herself after that inning."
Lauthers did just that, retiring the next seven batters and holding Claysburg scoreless the rest of the game.
"Blaire throws with so much heart," Tigers coach Stewart Miller said. "We have a lot of young girls on the team. We graduated five seniors last year and started with basically five freshmen this season. There's times when they're going to make mistakes and get behind, but we don't quit.
"Claysburg is a good, top team. I feel it's a privilege to stay in a game with a team like that. Their pitching is dominating, and we hadn't seen that level yet this season."
Fannett-Metal (17-4) was able to get some offense going in the fourth inning, when Jenna Rhodes shot a single to center field, advanced on a Lauthers hit up the middle and was driven home with an RBI single by Naomi Fields. The Tigers' momentum was stopped after just one run due to a double play to end the inning.
Morgan Burdge added one more run for Fannett-Metal in the seventh with a home run over the right center-field fence, but the Tigers couldn't overcome the early deficit.
"We were really motivated tonight," said Claysburg pitcher Ronette Claar, who allowed six hits while striking out 12 batters. "I was nervous coming in to play Fannett-Metal; they're a good team. We just knew we had to hit the ball well, stay focused and make plays. Our lineup really stepped up tonight."
Fannett-Metal will now move on to the District 5 Class A playoffs starting Wednesday, and the team thinks it has what it takes to get back on the right track.
"We're just going to focus on the next game and work on the little things," Lauthers said. "We're definitely coming around with the bats more than we were earlier this season. We've just gotta keep doing our best and getting better."
Claysburg will play in the District 6 Class A semifinals Thursday against the winner of Monday's game between Portage and Northern Cambria.
Claysburg-Kimmel060 000 0 - 6 9 1
Fannett-Metal000 100 1 - 2 6 4
DP-Claysburg-Kimmel 2; Fannett-Metal 1. LOB-Claysburg-Kimmel 7; Fannett-metal 3. 2B-Claar (CK). HR-Morgan Burdge 2 (FM). SB-Brumbaugh, Ritchey, Coho, Cox (CK).
Claysburg-KimmelIP h r er bb so
Ronette Claar (W)7 6 2 2 1 12
Fannett-MetalIP h r er bb so
Blaire Lauthers (L,9-3)7 9 6 3 0 7