BELLEFONTE - The Hollidaysburg softball team spent the last five innings in Thursday afternoon's District 6 Class AAA semifinal searching for a breakthrough hit that never came.
Squaring off against Bellefonte in a bid to get into Wednesday's final, the Lady Tigers had their chances.
Yet each time, Bellefonte was there with a clutch defensive play or a big strikeout that enabled the Lady Red Raiders to hold on for a 3-2 victory and a trip to Penn State's Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park for the final.
Bellefonte managed only eight hits against Hollidaysburg pitcher Alyssa Pheasant, and it scored single runs in the first, second and fourth innings to stay just out of the Lady Tigers' reach.
But Hollidaysburg had two opportunities for big innings - in the first and fifth - and another chance to at least tie the game in the third, but it never came through with that big hit.
"I think it was nerves, and we're young," Hollidaysburg coach Brenda Johnsonbaugh said. "We just didn't get it when we needed it.
"The difference between this game and the last one [a 7-6 win over Bellefonte] is that we didn't get runners on base and hits when we needed them."
It didn't look like it would be a low-scoring affair in the first inning. Both teams scored a run, with Hollidaysburg breaking through first when a hit by Peyton Civils, a walk to Mikayla Focht and a single by Krista Shay loaded the bases with one out. Civils scored on a wild pitch by Bellefonte pitcher Tara Baney to make it 1-0, and with runners on second and third with just one out, the Tigers were poised for more.
But Baney bore down and ended the threat with a strikeout and a groundout with no further damage.
Baney helped herself in the bottom of the inning with an RBI triple to right field, and then the Lady Raiders added another in the second inning on a walk and two stolen bases by Stevi Confer and an RBI single by Jenna Ault that made it 2-1.
In the Hollidaysburg third, a walk and a single by Shay put two runners on, but Baney got a grounder to end that inning.
Bellefonte went ahead 3-1 in the fourth on a double by Confer and a sacrifice fly by Liz Linn, but the Lady Tigers immediately got that run back in the fifth and threatened to get more.
With two outs, Civils reached on a error and Focht drove her home with a long triple to left field. Shay walked, but with runners on the corners, Kaylee Beaudoin tried to bunt her way on base. Raider third baseman Sierra Rider charged and just nipped Beaudoin at first for the third out.
That was the first of two times that the Tigers ended an inning on a bunt attempt. In the sixth, Alexis Stitt also tried to reach on a bunt with two outs, but Raider catcher Vanessa Cooper made the play.
"They put a lot of pressure on us last time," Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said, "and we spent a lot of time on bunt defense. That's the one thing we learned down there, that they were going to put the ball in play and force you to play defense. So we worked hard the last two days."
After Focht's triple, Confer relieved Baney in the circle, and she turned in a very effective performance. She allowed only a walk over the final three innings and she retired the final seven batters.
Pheasant pitched a complete game, giving up only the three runs and eight hits. She walked only one and struck out three.
"Pheasant pitched a heck of a game," Johnsonbaugh said. "I don't know how many hits she gave up [eight], and they are a good hitting team. We just didn't hit."
"But we had just four upperclassmen on the field, and we start five freshmen and sophomores. So we're looking for big things to come."
Hollidaysburg (2): Pheasant p 400 , Civils cf 421, Focht ss 101, Shay 2b 202, Beantwin c 300, Murphy lf 300, Parnell 1b 300, Stitt rf 100, Seiler 3b 300. Totals 26-2-4.
Bellefonte (3): Caparelle cf 300, Ripka 2b 301, Cooper c 303, Fishburn pr 010, Baney p 302, Pugh lf 300, Confer ss 221, Menna 1b 300, Linn rf 200, Ault dh 201. Totals 24 3 8.
Hollidaysburg100 010 0 - 2
Bellefonte110 100 X - 3
E-Confer, Linn. RBI-Focht, Linn, Ault, Baney. 2B-Confer. 3B-Focht, Baney. SF-Linn. SB-Confer (2). WP-Baney. LP-Pheasant. S0-Baney 2, Confer 1, Pheasant 3. BB-Focht 2, Shay, Confer.
Records: Hollidaysburg (9-11); Bellefonte (13-8).