UNIVERSITY PARK - Pitching, defense and timely hitting are a championship combination.
Hollidaysburg tossed all three ingredients into its District 6-AAA softball title stew Wednesday afternoon.
The Lady Tigers got a five-hit shutout pitching performance from sophomore right-hander Alyssa Pheasant, bunched four hits in a two-run third inning, and made the plays in the field that they needed to make en route to a 2-0 victory over Bellefonte in the 6-AAA championship game at Beard Field on the Penn State University campus.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Hollidaysburg’s players celebrate their District 6 championship Wednesday after beating Bellefonte.
Hollidaysburg improved to 11-9 and will move on to the first round of the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs next Monday at a site and time to be announced. Hollidaysburg's first-round opponent at states will be the loser of today's District 7 championship game between Greensburg-Salem and Ambridge.
Shortstop Hannah Mercer went 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI single and also contributed a big defensive play to shut off a potential Bellefonte rally in the sixth inning.
Mercer, a member of Hollidaysburg's last three District 6-AAA championship basketball teams, felt that the school's softball squad had a point to prove this season after winning a combined total of only four games over the previous two seasons.
"This is a huge weight off of all of our shoulders,'' she said. "This team knew we had to prove everybody who doubted us wrong. We're playing our best ball of the season right now.''
First-year Hollidaysburg coach Dennis Carter felt that his team had the ability to accomplish what it ultimately achieved Wednesday.
"The talent has always been there, and we've had great senior leadership,'' he said. "We're trying to turn the corner and develop consistency as a program, and it has taken a lot of hard work by the players to put everything together.''
Hollidaysburg produced all the scoring in the game against Bellefonte pitcher Stevi Confer in the top of the third inning.
First baseman Kathleen Sheehan drilled a one-out single off the left field wall, and advanced to second on Pheasant's infield single to third base. Third baseman Elizabeth Carter's groundout to second moved both runners up a base, to second and third.
Designated hitter Krista Shay followed with an infield single to deep short that Erica Diviney did well to get a glove on and keep in the infield as Sheehan scored from third and Pheasant moved from second to third.
Mercer followed by legging out an infield single, grounding a ball to shortstop Diviney and beating the throw to first as Pheasant scored the second run.
"Hitting wins games,'' Mercer said. "That's what we've been working on, and we came through in the fifth inning with a lot of clutch hits.''
Coach Carter knew the rally was essential.
"In a close game like this, you have to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves,'' he said.
Pheasant pitched an outstanding game, striking out two batters, walking two, and allowing only five hits.
"I just needed to hit my spots while I was throwing my pitches,'' she said. "I'm just so excited [about winning the championship]. It's the best feeling ever.''
Bellefonte coach Greg Kohlkepp felt that Pheasant was a difference-maker in the game.
"We knew that their pitcher was a heck of a pitcher,'' Kohlkepp said. "She deserves a lot of credit for keeping us off-balance today. We think we have a good hitting lineup.''
Bellefonte - which finished the season 11-11 - had the potential for a big inning in the bottom of the sixth, when catcher Vanessa Cooper lined a leadoff double into the right-center field gap. Cooper tried to stretch it into a triple, however, and was thrown out at third. Center fielder Jordan Stubbs fired a good throw to Mercer near the infield, and her relay toss to third baseman Elizabeth Carter beat Cooper to the bag.
It proved to be a pivotal play when Bellefonte got singles from Diviney and designated hitter Sarah Menna later in the inning before Pheasant got left fielder Carly Chambers to ground out to the mound to keep Bellefonte scoreless.
"That was a big play,'' Mercer said of the putout at third base. "But Jordan Stubbs deserves all the credit for getting a nice throw from the outfield in to me. I did the easy work.''
Nothing comes easy in the state playoffs, but Hollidaysburg is on the right path now.
"We've just got to keep playing hard and hitting the ball,'' Pheasant said. "I have a great group of girls playing behind me.''
HOLLIDAYSBURG (2): Pheasant p 411, Carter 3b 400, Rosensteel 2b 000, Shay dh 402, Mercer ss 303, Beaudoin rf 200, Herr c 301, Morrand cr 000, Stubbs cf 200, Civils lf 300, Sheehan 1b 311. Totals - 28-2-8.
BELLEFONTE (0): Cooper c 301, McClenahan 3b 200, Diviney ss 301, Maurer 1b 000, Menna dh 302, Rockey cr 000, Chambers lf 301, Pugh rf 300, Allen cf 300, Confer p 200, Ripka 2b 300. Totals - 25-0-5.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Hollidaysburg002 000 0-2 8 1
Bellefonte000 000 0-0 5 2
E-Mercer, Cooper, Maurer. 2B-Cooper. RBI-Shay, Mercer. LOB -Hollidaysburg 9, Bellefonte 6. SAC -Beaudoin, Stubbs.
HOLLIDAYSBURG: Pheasant (W); 7IP, OR, OER, 5H, 2SO, 2BB.
BELLEFONTE: Confer (L); 7IP, 2R, 2ER, 8H, 6SO, 2BB, 1 WP.
Umpires: Scott Cable (Plate); Don Moss (first base); Leslie Miller (second base); Stephanie Ashbrook (third base).
Time of game: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Records: Hollidaysburg (11-9); Bellefonte (11-11).