GREENSBURG - Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel chose to intentionally walk Claysburg-Kimmel cleanup hitter Kiersten Coho (sort of, nothing near the strike zone) with runners on first and second in the top of the sixth inning of a scoreless game.
Keyara Morgan, the freshman No. 5 hitter, followed with a single to center field to score Madison Ickes and Mallory Cox, and Coho scored from first on a throwing error on the play.
Flash forward to the eighth inning of Monday's tense PIAA Class A semifinal at Hempfield High School, and Coho's up with one out and two runners on base and Morgan on-deck.
This time, Lady Lancers freshman pitcher Madison Shaffer pitched to Coho, and the University of Hartford recruit jumped at the opportunity, lacing a double into right field past the outstretched glove of diving right fielder Kaela Zingaro to chase Abby Kulick and Mallory Cox home with the go-ahead runs.
"We were going to try to jam her inside," Kimmel said, "but I don't know where the pitch was at. It was probably a mistake. We hated to put her on again because that would have loaded the bases with one out."
The Lady Lancers, who tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a three-run home run by No. 9 hitter Jenna DeLuca, scored an unearned run in the eighth. But Coho induced Gina Zingaro into popping up to second baseman Ickes for the final out of a 5-4 win by the jubilant Lady Bulldogs, who hugged, jumped and shouted in celebration.
"I'm ecstatic. This is great," C-K coach Mike Barbarini said. "I've been through this as a player (for Harborcreek Little League and Big League), so I know what their feelings are. I'm proud of them as a coach because they're the ones that earned it. Nobody really gave us much of a shot at winning this game, other than us."
"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was a good hit," Coho said. "I saw it hit her glove and I saw her hit the ground, and I was like 'Oh my God, I hope she's okay. I don't want anything bad to happen to her.'
"This is amazing. It means a lot to me since these years were my years for pitching."
C-K (22-4) knocked off the Lady Lancers (18-3), who had played in two straight state title games, including winning in 2012, to get to its first state title game. C-K, the District 6 runner-up, will play Minersville (23-3), a 10-1 winner over Bristol in the other semifinal, at 3 p.m. Friday at Penn State's Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
There will be a conference call today, though, to discuss a time change among the four games because of a graduation.
Monday's game was a classic pitchers' duel between Coho and Shaffer, both of whom gave up six hits. Until the seventh, Coho, who threw 64 of her 94 pitches for strikes, only faced danger in the fifth when Nashannock had runners on second and third with two outs. But, Coho got No. 1 hitter Marissa DeMatteo, one of five left-handed hitters in the lineup, to bounce back to her for the third out.
"I think I did very good today," said Coho, who struck out five, walked one and hit one. "I took a day off yesterday so I could make sure everything was ready."
"She pitched a heck of a game," Barbarini said. "She pitched the best game she's pitched all year."
In the sixth, Ickes rapped a one-out single to center, and Cox walked with two outs. Coho then walked to load the bases, and Morgan followed with her hit.
"At the beginning of the season, she was always talking about 'I like it when we have tension. I like it when I'm at the plate, and I have to do good,'" Coho said. "When I was on first base, I was like 'Come on, Keyara, this is what you've been waiting for all season.'"
"I was nervous," Morgan admitted. "I knew I had to do something."
C-K fans were giddy with joy, but the tide turned in the bottom of the seventh.
After Gina Zingaro reached on an error to start the frame, Kaela Zingaro laced a one-out single to left. DeLuca, the designated player, then blasted a Coho offering over the center field fence. Coho induced two ground ball outs with the next two batters, but the damage was done.
"She's the strongest girl on my team," Kimmel said of DeLuca. "She was a starter in the outfield until she hurt her knee. She hits balls out all of the time in practice.
"I thought we were in the driver's seat when we hit that three-run homer. I thought that would shut them down, but it just wasn't meant to be today. I have to give (C-K) credit. They came back from that. They play good softball down in District 6."
"As soon as we started off with that error, I was like 'Please don't make us pay for that,'" Barbarini said, "and they did. They made us pay for that. That's what good teams do."
"I think we all got a little nervous after that," Morgan said, "but we knew we had to hit."
In the eighth, Kulick and Cox beat out back-to-back infield hits before Coho ripped her double past Kaela Zingaro, who injured her arm when she landed on it and had to leave the game.
"She got a big hit against them to score our only run last year," Barbarini said of Coho. "So, I knew she could hit this pitcher, and she had confidence she could hit the pitcher. That was a big hit, but she had to have people on in front of her."
The Lady Lancers scored a run in the bottom of the eighth on a Madison Altmyer sacrifice fly, but C-K was happy to trade the second out for a run. And the third out touched off C-K's celebration.
"We lost districts, but now we have to get something bigger and better," Morgan said.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (5): Ickes 2b 411, Kulick rf 311, Cox c 321, Coho p 312, Morgan 3b 401, Claycomb ss 300, LeMaster lf 300, Wannyn cf 300, Helsel dp 300, Glass 1b 000. Totals - 29-5-6.
NESHANNOCK (4): DeMatteo 2b 400, Borrelli cf 300, Shaffer p 411, Fischer 1b 401, Altmyer ss 200, G. Zingaro 3b 411, Kirkwood c 300, K. Zingaro rf 312, Denocci rf 000, DeLuca dp 311, Lash lf 000. Totals - 30-4-6.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Claysburg-Kimmel000 003 02-5 6 2
Neshannock000 000 31-4 6 1
E-Ickes, LeMaster; G. Zingaro. 2B-Coho. HR-DeLuca. RBI-Coho 2, Morgan 2; DeLuca 3, Altmyer. DP-Neshannock. SF-Altmyer. SB-DeLuca. HBP-Altmyer. LOB-Claysburg-Kimmel 4, Neshannock 5.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Coho (W)-8 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO.
Neshannock: Shaffer (L)-8 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO.
Records: Claysburg-Kimmel (22-4); Neshannock (18-3).