Home runs cost Mustangs
By Calem Illig
JOHNSTOWN — Holding a two-run lead in the fourth inning, the Portage softball team appeared to have the upper hand Thursday afternoon.
The Lady Mustangs surrendered a few unearned runs, but looked to be in the driver’s seat against Conemaugh Valley in the District 6 Class 1A semifinals, but two quick swings of the bat quickly reversed the game’s fortunes.
Home runs from Katie Ledwich and Delanie Davison put the Blue Jays on top as Portage was unable to climb back in a 13-9 defeat.
“Our game plan coming into today was to limit the home run ball,” Portage coach Brian Randall said. “Obviously we did not do a good job at that. If we keep the ball in the park, it’s a different game, but we didn’t accomplish that goal today.”
Portage (16-5) laid the lumber early with nine hits in the opening four innings, and appeared to have set the foundation for the rest of the game.
Two long shots from Conemaugh Valley, however, turned the game upside down.
After the Blue Jays (17-3) cut the deficit to one in the bottom of the fourth, Ledwich crushed a two-run home run to center field to provide her team with a one-run advantage.
An RBI single from Isabella Winkelman extended Conemaugh Valley’s lead to two, and another fence-clearing shot pushed the Bluejays even further.
Davison collected her second home run of the day and her team’s third with a two run shot in the fifth, which provided enough insurance for the victory.
Only six of Conemaugh Valley’s 13 runs were earned, and five different players recorded at least two hits.
“Portage is a tough team no matter what sport it is,” Conemaugh Valley coach Paula McCleester said. “You have to be ready, and we worked on (Portage pitcher Maryn Swank). I know our bats are strong, but pitchers can dominate at any time. We put a lot of work in, and it paid off for us.”
After consistently producing runs through the first four innings, the offense quickly dried up for Portage.
The Lady Mustangs recorded just one hit in the game’s final three innings and did not score another run.
Hannah Stiffler pitched the first inning for Conemaugh Valley before Davison stepped into the circle.
“I was pretty nervous coming in, but I knew I had to do this for my team,” said Davison, who allowed five hits and fanned six. “Once I got into the game, all the nerves kind of went away.”
While Conemaugh Valley will advance to next week’s title game to compete for its first district championship since 2017, Portage’s whirlwind season came to a conclusion.
The Mustangs suffered preseason injuries to their top two batters from a season ago — Lauren Shaffer and Maddy Hudak — but battled back to come one win away from a state playoff berth.
Seniors Swank and Karli Karalfa will depart the program.
“They’re gritty and they respond to adversity,” Randall said. “They have such resilience. We talked after the game about how proud we were of their efforts. We had a freshman step up and play third base for us and learn that position. We had a sophomore play second base and a senior learn a whole new position because of an injury. No matter what we asked of this group of girls, they stepped up and responded.”
PORTAGE (9): Redfern cf 411, Swank p 422, S. Castel c 400, Karalfa ss 312, L. Castel 3b 412, Noll dh 301, Slanoc lf 411, Phillips 1b 311, Harrison rf 410. Totals — 33 9 10
CONEMAUGH VALLEY (13): H. Stiffler p/ss 531, Gunby 2b 522, Davison ss/p 432, Ledwich c 322, Grecek cf 222, Winkelman 3b 402, Hudec 1b 401, J. Stiffler rf 300, Roverbaum lf 410. Totals — 34 13 12.
SCORE BY INNING
Portage……………………241 200 0 — 9 10 3
Con. Valley………………430 420 X — 13 12 4
E–Redfern 2, Winkleman 2, Roverbaum, Karalfa, Gunby. 2B–Swank 2, Noll, Castel, Winkelman, Gunby, Grecek. 3B–Redfern. HR–Davison 2, Ledwich. RBI– Davison 5, Winkelman 3, Redfern 3, Noll 2, Ledwich 2, Swank, Karalfa, L. Castel, Phillips, Gunby, Grecek, Hudec.
Conemaugh Valley: Davison (W)– 6 IP, 5 H, 6K, 2BB, 3R, 1ER. Stiffler–1 IP, 5 H, 1 K, 1 BB, 6R, 4ER.
Portage: Swank (L)– 6 IP, 12H, 6K, 2BB, 13R, 6ER.
Records: Conemaugh Valley (17-3); Portage (16-5).