UNIVERSITY PARK - Of Philipsburg-Osceola's four straight District 6 Class AA softball titles, Wednesday night's 8-7 entertaining win over 10th-seeded Ligonier Valley at Penn State's Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park was by far the toughest.
Not only did the top-seeded Lady Mounties have to deal with Ligonier Valley's superstar shortstop and Kent State recruit Maddy Grimm, they also had to rebound from a couple defensive lapses in a five-run third inning for the Lady Rams.
The bad inning left P-O trailing, 5-2, but the Lady Mounties worked their way back with the hitting of No. 3 and 4 hitters Mackenzie Burge and Abby Showers, who combined to go 6-for-8 with five RBIs, three triples and four runs scored, clutch pitching of Kate Burge and the strategy of coach Jim Gonder to intentionally walk Grimm with nobody on in her last two at-bats.
The Lady Rams scored two runs in the top of the seventh on a two-out dropped fly ball to get to within one run, but pinch runner Kari Kuhn was left stranded when first baseman Mackenzie Burge gloved Rachel Wallace's ground ball and touched first for the final out.
"It feels amazing," Showers said. "This is the best feeling ever when Coach Gonder says 'Good job' when he puts that medal around your neck."
"We knew we were going to rebound from it," Kate Burge said. "That's what Coach Gonder told us to do, just rebound from it, and I think we did a good job of rebounding."
"It is disappointing," LV coach Mark Zimmerman said. "You come up here to win it. But all in all, they [P-O] are a good team. I knew they weren't going to mail it in. They've won too many games to do that."
The Lady Mounties (21-1), who had 12 hits, breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated the program's 11th district title. Both teams will take part in the PIAA playoffs. P-O will be back at Penn State on Monday against District 7 third-placer Chartiers-Houston at a time to be determined, while Ligonier Valley (16-4) will face District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge on Monday at a site and time to be determined.
Showers, only a sophomore, and Grimm are two of the best - if not the best - shortstops in the state, and they proved with their hitting and flawless fielding.
"Oh my gosh," Coach Gonder said. "I'm not sure you'll find two better shortstops anywhere. They field well. They hit well. Our three and four hitters were real clutch."
Coach Gonder's approach at facing Grimm changed after she crushed a solo third-inning home run over the right-center fence that was estimated at about 250 feet. Rachel Wallace's two-run single preceded two errors on Hannah Yesky's sacrifice bunt that scored two runs. Yesky scored on a ground ball.
"That was my fault," Coach Gonder said of the home run. "We should have just walked her four times. I actually think the home run triggered the other runs."
Showers responded in the bottom of the inning with an RBI triple off of pitcher Hailey Umbaugh. Two innings later, P-O scored four runs, highlighted by Showers' game-tying, two-run triple.
"I felt pretty confident at the plate," Showers said. "I just went up there and everybody was like 'Hey, be patient. She's a wild pitcher.' I just kind of waited for the right pitch, and I whacked it. When I hit those two triples, I was thinking 'I need to pick my team up and give them a confidence booster.' It makes me more motivated to be like [Grimm]."
Haylee Hayward's sacrifice fly and Megan Bainey's RBI single gave P-O a 7-5 lead. Mackenzie Burge's RBI single in the sixth was a big one.
Kate Burge retired eight in a row until she intentionally walked Grimm again in the seventh.
"It's kind of frustrating," Grimm said, "but if they're going to sacrifice a runner, I just pray that teammates behind me are going to hit me in."
Jackie Berry worked a walk off of Burge, and both scored on the error.
"We typically play better defense than that," Coach Gonder said.
But Burge and catcher - and fellow senior - Carly Gonder worked their way out of it and won her second title as the P-O pitcher.
"I thought she threw well," Coach Gonder said of Burge. "We need to spot the pitches a little bit better, and she knows that, and she never got down on herself."
Ligonier Valley (7): Grimm ss 222, Berry lf 221, B. Wallace 3b 300, Frappier 1b 411, Kuhn pr-cr 000, R. Wallace rf 411, Yesky 2b 310, Lynch c 301, Markosky cf 300 , Lear dp 300, Umbaugh p 000. Totals: 27-6-3.
Philipsburg-Osceola (8): Frank rf 321, K. Burge p 110, Henry cr 000, M. Burge 1b 433, Showers ss 413, Hayward 3b 300, Goss lf 300, Gonder c 312, Bainey cf 302, Shedlock dp 301, Myers 2b 000. Totals: 27-8-12.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Ligonier Valley005 000 2-7 6 2
Philipsburg-Osceola201 041 X-8 12 3
E-Yesky, Markosky; Frank 2, K. Burge. RBI-Grimm, R. Wallace, Lynch; Showers 3, M. Burge 2, Hayward, Bainey. 2B-Grimm; Frank, Gonder. 3B-Showers 2, M. Burge. HR-Grimm. SB-Showers, Shedlock. CS-Grimm (by Gonder); Bainey (by Lynch). SAC-B. Wallace, Yesky; K. Burge 2. SF-Hayward. LOB-Ligonier Valley 4, Philipsburg-Osceola 6. DP-Ligonier Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola.
Ligonier Valley:Umbaugh (L)-6 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 0 SO.
Philipsburg-Osceola: K. Burge (W)-7 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO.
Records: Ligonier Valley (16-4). Philipsburg-Osceola (21-1)