UNIVERSITY PARK - Claysburg-Kimmel's final linescore read "6-6-6," and, for 6 1/2 innings of the District 6 Class A softball championship game, the Lady Bulldogs' gloves seemed cursed and their hopes seemed bewitched.
"Ew, not a good omen," said C-K senior center fielder Kala Brumbaugh, "but, well, whatever works."
Having squandered a 4-0 lead by allowing four unearned runs, Claysburg trailed entering the bottom of the seventh. The Lady Bulldogs only had three baserunners in the previous four innings and four hits total while trying to exorcise the memory of a heartbreaking extra-inning loss in last year's district final when their star senior pitcher threw a four-hitter.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Claysburg-Kimmel’s Kala Brumbaugh runs through the gamut of emotions as she enjoys the thrill of victory after scoring the winning run in Wednesday’s district championship game against Southern Huntingdon.
Southern Huntingdon definitely was in trouble.
"I said, 'Hey, this is right where we want to be,'" Lady Bulldogs coach Mike Barbarini said.
He was right. Madison Ickes and Brumbaugh opened the inning with singles, a bases-loaded walk to Courtlin Holland forced in the tying run, and Brumbaugh crossed the plate with the winning tally as the top-seeded Lady Bulldogs emerged with an improbable 6-5 victory in a wild contest at the Nittany Lion Softball Park and Beard Field marked by 14 errors between the teams.
"It's the best feeling, because we lost it last year, and everyone wanted it this year," said Ickes, the junior second baseman who scored twice.
Kiersten Coho only allowed one earned run, striking out six and walking none for the Lady Bulldogs while helping her own cause with a pair of hits.
"It's amazing, the happiness," Coho said of the win. "Words can't explain it."
Coho was at the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the Claysburg half of the seventh, the game now tied at 5. She hit the ball hard to a drawn-in shortstop, but, when Southern Huntingdon's Kelsey Jenkins didn't field the grounder cleanly, the speedy Brumbaugh slid across the plate ahead of the throw home with the winning run.
"I just knew that I had to get home. I was running full speed and sliding in," Brumbaugh said. "I knew it had to be close. I was like, 'Please God.'"
Brumbaugh had reached on one of her trademark bunt singles one batter after Ickes lined a single to left.
"I looked at Madison [before the inning] and I said, 'This is our chance. We're not losing. You better hit the ball,' and she did," Brumbaugh said. "I try to motivate my team as best I can. Sometimes a little intimidation works."
The next batter, Mallory Cox, hit a grounder that was thrown to third too late to get Ickes. Ickes overslid the bag, but Southern Huntingdon third baseman Kara Leonard, who had two hits and made a spectacular defensive play to rob Cox of extra bases to start the fifth, dropped the ball.
Holland then walked to plate Ickes with the tying run, and, after Mercedeze LeMaster popped out to short, Coho's grounder won it.
"It was jitters and nerves. It was now or never. You've got to do it," Coho, a junior, said. "I was just trying to hit it in the gap to get the girl in."
Coho had been badly fooled while striking out the previous at bat.
"I was uptight. I was trying too hard to hit it," Coho said.
One year after the Lady Bulldogs (19-3) lost to Bellwood-Antis 1-0 in nine innings in the 6-A final when it left nine runners on base, Claysburg built a 4-0 lead in the second inning and seemed on the verge of winning going away before four Lady Bulldog errors opened the door for Southern Huntingdon to score five times in the fourth.
"Last year, we left here losers with our heads hanging. Coming back like that was very satisfying," Barbarini said. "This year's team is balanced. We don't have a dominant player like Ronette [Claar]. Everybody looked to her. Here, everybody looks at everybody else. We've been doing this all year when we get down. We just have been a way to do it."
The Lady Bulldogs will play Frazier or Burgettstown, the third seed from District 7, at Penn State as part of a quadrupleheader on Monday. Southern Huntingdon (18-4) also will advance to face the District 9 champion.
Southern Huntingdon was trying to avenge a 5-4 loss to C-K during the regular season. Morgan Sheeder also had two hits for the Lady Rockets, who committed eight errors.
"They can't have eight errors and expect to win a ballgame. That's been their strongpoint. We've had a good hitting team, and our defense has been really strong. That's probably more errors than we've had all season," Southern Huntingdon coach Terri Lessley said. "I told the girls, 'Claysburg's a good hitting team. One run is not enough insurance. We need more."
Coho, though, kept it at a one-run difference. She took on the role as successor in the pitching circle this season to Claar, a four-year starter and all-state talent.
"It's definitely tough to come in and try to fill her position. I have to set myself up another level every game to improve myself and prove to everyone I'm just as good as she is," Coho said.
All the errors - attributed by Barbarini and the players to nerves, complacency and a bit of panic - tested of Coho's resolve, and that of her team. However, this was a case of all well that ends well.
"That [six] is our lucky number," Ickes said with a laugh.
SOUTHERN HUNTINGDON (5): Garlock c 401, Jenkins ss 401, Leonard 3b 412, Detwiler lf 411, Kern 1b 311, Sheeder cf 302, Varner dp 310, Zinobile p (flex) 000, King rf 310, Gorhorn 2b 300. Totals - 31-5-8
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (6): M. Ickes 2b 421, Brumbaugh cf 311, Cox ss 400, Holland c 300, LeMaster 1b 401, Walter pr 010, Coho p 402, Wannyn cr 010, Claycomb 3b 300, Kulick rf 301, Ritchey lf 310. Totals - 31-6-6.
SCORE BY INNINGS
S. Huntingdon000 500 0-5 7 8
Claysburg-Kimmel040 000 2-6 6 6
E-Claycomb 2, Sheeder 2, Leonard 2, Zinobile 2, Coho, Cox 2, Holland, Jenkins 2. LOB-Southern Huntingdon 6, Claysburg-Kimmel 7. RBI-Kulick, Sheeder, Jenkins, Holland. CS-King.
Southern Huntingdon: Zinobile (L)-6 IP, 6 R, 2 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 SO.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Coho (W)-7 IP, 5 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 SO.
One out when winning run scored.
Team records: Southern Huntingdon (18-4); Claysburg-Kimmel (19-3).
Umpires: Dan Olsavsky (plate), Jim Davis (first), Tony Olsavsky (second), Skip Powell (third).