Lady Mounties get dramatic win

By Todd Irwin

For The Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK – A check of the Philipsburg-Osceola softball roster shows that there are only two seniors – third baseman Haylee Hayward and left fielder Chelsey Henry.

Both of them took backseats to freshman hero Kam Harris in the District 6 Class AA championship game against Bald Eagle Area last week.

But they had their pick of whatever seat in the team bus they pleased on the way back to Philipsburg on Monday night after a one-for-the-ages come-from-behind 6-5, eight-inning win over Steel Valley in the first round of the PIAA playoffs before a large P-O crowd at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

The Lady Mounties rallied from 5-0 down against District 7 third-placer Steel Valley to get to within two going into the bottom of the seventh inning. And then Hayward and Henry hit back-to-back stunning home runs to start the inning, and then Hayward won it in the eighth with a double that chased Maggie Peck, the winning pitcher in relief, home to a celebration.

Afterward, No. 3 hitter Hayward, cleanup hitter Henry and coach Jim Gonder were at a loss for words.

“Ah,” Hayward said with a laugh, “I’m baffled. I’m shocked. I’m happy. It’s an amazing feeling. You dream about this as a little kid hitting balls in the backyard, and now you’re out here doing it for a group of girls that are just unbelievable.”

“I’m still processing right now,” Henry said. “I kind of feel numb. I think that was a spectacular game.”

“We were on the canvas, and they came back up swinging,” Gonder said. “It was a total team effort. We didn’t play our best game on defense (four errors). Hannah Thompson was clutch from the No. 9 spot. Maggie came in, got a win on this field. It’s a big deal for her, obviously. If there are softball gods, we got a big prayer answered tonight. I can’t be prouder of the seniors.”

The Lady Mounties (22-2) advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals, where they’ll play District 7 runner-up South Park, a 16-4 winner over Northwestern, on Thursday at a site and time to be announced.

P-O had been hitting the ball hard off of pitcher Maddie Cotter, but the balls found gloves. But then Hayward, who finished a single shy of the cycle, led off the seventh by launching a Cotter pitch off the scoreboard beyond left field.

“I just said to myself I don’t want this to be the last time I play with these girls,” Hayward said. “I could use that as motivation because they keep me going all the time. I just stepped to the plate and said ‘You know what, this isn’t over yet.’ I wasn’t really looking to hit a home run. I was just looking to make good contact or even draw a walk to get on base.”

“I knew Haley’s was gone when it came off of the bat,” Henry said. “And then I felt the pressure and I’m like ‘Oh man, no we’re one away.’ I just wanted to hit a ground ball, wanted to get on base. Never in a million years would I have thought they we would have went back-to-back. That was the last thing on my mind, and it just went.”

Hayward had just gotten back to the dugout when Henry blasted a Cotter pitch over the left-center fence. Suddenly it was tied, and P-O fans were gloriously happy.

“I know she’s capable of it,” Hayward said. “I just said to her ‘Find your pitch, square it up.’ Sometimes both her and I get a little bit too jumpy, and we try to jump on that first pitch even if it’s not the best one. That never ran through my mind that we would go back-to-back, but when she hit it, I knew that one was gone.”

“When they hit those, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got this,'” Peck said, “because there was a total shift in momentum.”

In the eighth, Peck worked a walk off of Cotter and Kylie Thal beat out a bunt hit. That set the stage for Hayward, who was facing curiously a drawn-in outfield. She crushed a double to deep to score Peck with the winner.

“I felt confident. I knew she was going to get on,” Henry said. “I don’t even remember who was on ahead of her, but I knew she was going to hit the ball.”

Hayward had been struggling at the plate in the playoffs.

“Yeah, I’ve been popping the ball up,” Hayward said, “but I talked to Coach, and we just made a small adjustment before I went in the batter’s box. You can call him a genius because he knows what he’s talking about. I ended up hitting the ball pretty well after that.”

Peck, the losing pitcher in relief of an eight-inning game two years ago against Bald Eagle Area, was masterful with a achingly slow changeup that baffled Steel Valley. She held SV scoreless the last four innings.

“This week and this week might give me a heart attack. I’m so excited,” Peck said. “Going into it, I was like ‘Oh no, this better not be a repeat of two years ago. I don’t know if I can handle it.’ It was just great that we came out with a win.”

“I think the game probably turned when they brought in the other pitcher,” Steel Valley coach Matt Janov said. “She seemed to have us a little off-balance.”

Asked what he thought the next round, Gonder smiled.

“I’m not even worrying about the next one until tomorrow,” Gonder said. “That’s the best comeback I’ve been involved with in this kind of setting.”

Steel Valley (5): Martin dp 510, Rohan c 502, Hartnett cr 020, Farrah ss 513, Bayus 3b 401, Cotter p 302, Williams cf 000, Straub 1b 401, Sniegocki lf 402, Sikora cf 300, Vargo ph 100, M. Harris rf 411, Proof 2b 000. Totals: 38-5-12.

Philipsburg-Osceola (6): Peck 1b-p 310, Thal c 402, Hayward 3b 513, Henry lf 411, K. Harris p-1b 402, Taylor pr 000, Burge dp 300, Lucas rf 221, Kost ph 000, Carns cf 300, Thompson ss 402, Granville 2b-pr 010. Totals: 32-6-11.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Steel Valley102 200 00-5 12 1

Phil-Osceola000 201 21-6 11 4

No outs when winning run scored in eighth

E-M. Harris; Thompson, Hayward, Peck, Granville. 2B- Farrah 2, Sniegocki; Thompson 2, Hayward, Harris. 3B-Rohan, Hayward, Lucas. HR-Hayward, Henry. RBIs-Rohan, Farrah, Bayus, Cotter, Straub; Hayward 2, Thompson 2, Henry, Lucas. SAC-Carns. DP-Philipsburg-Osceola. LOB-Steel Valley 10, Philipsburg-Osceola 12.

PITCHING

Steel Valley: Cotter (L)-7 IP (pitched to 3 batters in 8th), 11 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 2 SO.

Philipsburg-Osceola: K. Harris-4 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO; Peck (W)-4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO.

Records: Steel Valley (16-7); Philipsburg-Osceola (22-2)

Umpires: Ron Walter (HP), John Martino (first), Byron Quinton (second), Colleen Shannon (third)

Time of game: 2:30