UNIVERSITY PARK - Carly Gonder hit from the leadoff spot all of last season and the start of this season, but she was dropped down to seventh because of her offensive struggles.
She, however, has been starting to heat up at the plate lately, and, after a 2-for-3 performance in the District 6 championship, Philipsburg-Osceola coach Jim Gonder moved her into the leadoff spot for Monday night's PIAA Class AA state first-round playoff game against Chartiers-Houston.
Coach Gonder's decision paid off as his neice had a huge night, doubling off the right-center field wall in her first two at-bats, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and catching Kate Burge's 10-strikeout three-hitter in a 4-1 win over the Buccaneers before a large P-O crowd at Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
P-O's Carly Gonder gets one of her three hits.
"That's her home," Burge said of her battery mate. "Just seeing her go back and do what she did today was awesome for her. It's where she belongs. She feels so much more comfortable leading the team off and being the team leader. "
"I see why they moved her up now," Chartiers-Houston coach Tricia Alderson told laughing reporters. "We pitched her drop balls, screwballs, changeups, whatever it was, she was just driving it. She's a great player."
The Lady Mounties (22-1) will now get ready to play another District 7 team, runner-up Deer Lakes on Thursday at a site and time to be determined. Deer Lakes defeated Fairview, 3-0, in its first-round game. Chartiers-Houston finished with a 19-2 record.
P-O lost in the first round of states, 5-3 in eight innings, to eventual state champion Neshannock last year, so there was a little more incentive after winning a fourth straight District 6 title.
"I think it was a big win for us from that perspective," Jim Gonder said. "There were some skeletons hanging in the closet from last year."
Jim Gonder is usually not one to change his lineup in the playoffs, so moving Carly Gonder to the leadoff and dropping Haley Frank to the second spot was uncharacteristic of the veteran coach.
"The coaches talked after the district final game, and I was contemplating what to do," Coach Gonder said. "I said this is the lineup I'd like to go with, and they were all like 'Yeah, that makes sense.'"
"I've been hungry for it all season," Carly Gonder said. "He was just thinking about it the other day, and then yesterday he made the changes in the lineup. And the girls were all supportive. I was just happy I was hitting to opposite field. I've been a very strong pull hitter and not a very strong opposite field hitter, and having two doubles off the right field wall makes me realize I have to be watched all over."
The game started 25 minutes late because of the three earlier games, but Burge and Gonder were on right from the start. Burge struck out five of the first nine batters, and when Chartiers put runners on first and second in the fourth on an error and its first hit, she struck out No. 5 hitter Samantha Elliott.
Burge was coming off the title game performance in which she wasn't at her best, but she needed only 75 pitches, 48 for strikes, to get the win this time.
"She threw well," Carly Gonder said. "She put the ball where she needed to put it. I think they were chasing pitches. I don't think they were seeing her very well."
"I just think I was really working on my movement," Burge said. "I felt I was really spinning the ball hard. I knew at any moment it could be a one-run game and we could be losing. So every pitch, I had to take a deep breath and know exactly what I had to do."
The Lady Mounties loaded the bases in the first inning on Gonder's double, Frank's bunt single and a fielder's choice off of a Mackenzie Burge bunt. But C-H pitcher Toni Spossey, who had a tantalizingly slow changeup, wiggled off the hook by inducing two ground balls to third baseman Sabrina Stankus and one more back to her.
P-O left the bases loaded in the first and fifth, and it stranded 10 in the game. Stankus was a major reason as she gobbled up eight ground balls from the hot corner.
"Oh my gosh, I think she robbed us about three times," Coach Gonder said. "She made some nice plays."
But when Carly Gonder doubled again in the third, Frank moved her to third with a sacrifice bunt, and she scored on another fielder's choice off the bat of Mackenzie Burge.
In the fourth inning, P-O loaded the bases again, but this time Gonder delivered a single to center field to chase Haylee Hayward and Megan Bainey home to make the score 3-0.
The Buccaneers scored an unearned run in the fifth to cut into P-O's lead, but the Lady Mounties got it back in the sixth with an unearned run of their own. Mackenzie Burge, who reached on a Spossey error, scored on a two-out Abby Showers single up the middle.
When Kate Burge struck out Casey Craig for the final out, P-O could start thinking about Thursday's game - a day defore the pitcher and catcher, right fielder Aisha Goss and second baseman Makayla Myers graduate.
"We have to keep our emotions in check," Burge said, "and he we have to stay confident and stay in the game. We can't be thinking about other stuff."
Chartiers-Houston (1): Briggs cf 300, McLaughlin 1b 300, Spossey p 300, Sutton 2b 301, Elliott lf 200, Kraushaar ss 311, Kesnick rf 200, Craig c 301, Stankus 3b 200. Totals: 24-1-3
Philipsburg-Osceola (4): Gonder c 413, Frank rf 301, M. Burge 1b 410, Showers ss 401, K. Burge p 401, Goss lf 301, Hayward 3b 211, Bainey cf 310, Shedlock dp 300, Myers 2b 000. Totals: 30-4-8
SCORE BY INNINGS
Chartiers-Houston000 010 0-1 3 4
Philipsburg-Osceola001 201 X-4 8 2
E-Briggs, Spossey, Sutton, Kraushaar; Showers, K. Burge. RBI-Gonder 2, M. Burge, Showers. 2B-Gonder 2. SB-M. Burge 2, Showers. SAC-Kesneck; Frank. LOB-Chartiers-Houston 4, Philipsburg-Osceola 10.
Ligonier Valley:Spossey (L)-6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO.
Philipsburg-Osceola: K. Burge (W)-7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO.
Records: Chartiers-Houston (19-2). Philipsburg-Osceola (22-1)