UNIVERSITY PARK - The Paynes - Bellwood-Antis coach Jim and his star junior pitcher, Taylor - thought they were dreaming, and, with one big swing, Kelsey Shawley opened her eyes and made it come true.
Shawley, B-A's powerful first baseman, lashed a two-out double in the top of the ninth to break a scoreless tie, and the Lady Devils went on for a 2-0 win over defending champion Claysburg-Kimmel in the District 6 Class A softball championship game on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon at the Nittany Lion Softball Park and Beard Field.
It was the first District 6 championship - in fact, the first district championship game appearance - for a Bellwood program that didn't even exist 15 years ago and for many years lurked near the bottom of the Juniata Valley League before that became the North Division of the Inter-County Conference.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Members of the Bellwood-Antis softball team celebrate their first-ever district championship in the sport.
"It's unbelievable. I feel like I'm in a dream right now,'' said Taylor Payne, who scattered seven hits, somehow worked her way out of multiple jams and capped it with an RBI double for an insurance run. "I had a great feeling all day long. I just knew it was going to happen.''
It was possible, but didn't seem all that likely Claysburg was in its fourth straight district final, having won in 2009 and 2011. The Lady Bulldogs also had taken what appeared to be the best shots Bellwood had to dish out in the regular season and beaten the Lady Devils twice by one run; Bellwood only lost one other game.
"Just tell me, is this real? I don't want to wake up and find out it was only a dream,'' Jim Payne said, moved to tears. "We embraced the underdog status. We felt we should keep that role. They were better. They were the undefeated team. We wanted to come out and just play our game and see what would happen.
"We took this program over and it was 6-13. These kids never let me down.''
Claysburg dipped to 21-1 and still will advance to the PIAA tournament. However, that wasn't much consolation to Lady Bulldog all-state pitcher Ronette Claar.
"It's a tough loss. We worked hard,'' Claar said. "This was one of our goals.''
Claar only gave up four hits and one walk, and both the runs she surrendered were unearned.
The one Lady Devil that had success against Claar was Shawley. The left-handed hitting first baseman crushed a double into the right-center field gap to lead off the second and drew a walk in the fourth.
After Emily Nagle opened the ninth inning for Bellwood by reaching on Madison Ickes' error and Anna Wolfe hit into a fielder's choice to replace her on the basepaths, Jacqueline Finn popped out to second, bringing Shawley to the plate with a runner on first and two outs.
On the first pitch, Shawley went the other way. Her liner down the left-field line scored Wolfe all the way from first to a cascade of cheers from the Lady Devils' fans.
"I had my eyes shut before she pitched. My eyes didn't open until she pitched the ball. My dad had always said to hit it to the opposite side of the field, and I just found a way and came through with it,'' Shawley said. "I had to envision what I wanted to happen. I was envisioning over the fence, but I'll settle with that one.''
Although Bellwood hadn't beaten Claysburg before and B-A was new to this environment, Shawley said she was confident in the Lady Devils' chances.
"After we played them close the first two times, we knew we had our chance. It was just a matter of whether our Bellwood team showed up. And we did,'' Shawley said. "We were flipping out when we hit the field, but, eventually, around the fourth inning, all my nerves went away, and it was just another game.''
Taylor Payne retired the Lady Bulldogs in order in the bottom of the inning to make it hold up, but it wasn't without a few gasps. Mercedeze LeMaster led off and lined one into center.
Emily Nagle, though, made a sensational diving-and-rolling catch coming in - the first she said she ever made - without even considering the consequences if the ball got by her.
"I was so nervous, and I just thought to come up for that. My first reaction was to go get it,'' Nagle said. "I wanted to win so bad. I had to catch it.''
In the fourth inning, Bellwood shortstop Lauren Snyder turned in her own defensive gem to give Nagle her chance later. With one out and runners on first and second, C-K catcher Mallory Cox hit a looping liner into the hole between short and third that seemed destined to give the Lady Bulldogs the lead, but Snyder snared it backhanded and threw back to second for an inning-ending double play.
"I didn't think I had it,'' Snyder said with a big nervous laugh. "Then, I saw the [runner]. She was practically on third.''
It was a game of close calls that didn't go Claysburg's way. The Lady Bulldogs left nine runners stranded, including five in scoring position. C-K had its first two hitters of the game get to second and third with no outs, then loaded the bases in the third with none out but never could break through for a run.
Claar and Kala Brumbaugh had two hits each for the Lady Bulldogs. One of Claar's was a double.
"We didn't execute the bunts when we needed to in the first inning. That put us in the hole, and then we struck out. If we put bunts down there, we probably score,'' Claysburg coach Mike Barbarini said. "I knew if we didn't come back in another inning and execute, it was just a matter of time before they did.''
Five of Payne's eight strikeouts were pitched with Lady Bulldogs on second and/or third.
"I just knew I had to step up,'' Taylor Payne said. "We had to go next level. I knew the only way was that we couldn't let them score.''
Both teams actually will go to the next level. Bellwood will be back at Beard Field on Monday afternoon to face the District 10 champion. Claysburg, meanwhile, probably will travel to Williamsport's Elm Park to face the District 4 champion.
"I told them this is not the end,'' Barbarini said. "This is the beginning of states now.''
"We still have a chance,'' Claar said.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (2): Nagle cf 400, Wolfe 2b 410, Finn c 400, Shawley 1b 312, Kirkpatrick pr 010, Payne p 401, Snyder cr 000, Snyder ss 401, Fraser dp 300, Davinsizer lf (flex) 000, Decker 3b 300, Me. McCaulley rf 300. Totals - 32-2-4.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (0): Claar p 302, Brumbaugh cf 402, Fleck ss 400, Claycomb 3b 300, Ritchey rf 300, Ickes 2b 401, LeMaster dp 401, Kulick lf-pr (flex) 000, Coho 1b 400, Cox c 301, Walter cr 000. Totals - 32-0-7.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Bellwood-Antis000 000 002-2 4 0
Claysburg-Kimmel000 000 000-0 7 1
E-Ickes. DP-Bellwood-Antis. LOB-Bellwood-Antis 4, Claysburg-Kimmel 9. 2B-Claar, Shawley 2, Payne. RBI-Shawley, Payne. SB-Brumbaugh 2.
Bellwood-Antis: Payne (W)-9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Claar (L)-9 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO.
Team records: Bellwood-Antis (20-3); Claysburg-Kimmel (21-1).
Umpires: Al Williams, plate; Frank Ferra, first; Jim Rupp, second; Mike Rendos, third.