UNIVERSITY PARK - As a member of three District 6 championship basketball teams and this year's District 6 Class AAA championship softball team, Hollidaysburg Area High School senior Hannah Mercer knows all too well the peaks and valleys that can occur in a season.
Even during playoff competition.
After coming through with its finest hour last Thursday in a 2-0 victory over Bellefonte in the District 6-AAA title game, the Hollidaysburg softball team hit a low note Monday in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs, and saw its season end with a 5-2 loss to District 7 runner-up Ambridge on Penn State University's Beard Field.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Lady Tiger Hannah Mercer puts the tag on at second for the out.
"Sometimes, when you win a district championship, you fall back down the next game,'' Mercer, the Lady Tigers' standout shortstop said. "It happened in basketball, and it happened today. The district championship game was our best game of the year, but we didn't play anywhere near the best of our ability today like we did in the district championship game.''
Ambridge (18-4) got a foothold on the victory by bunching four hits during a four-run third inning.
A Hollidaysburg throwing error opened the door for Ambridge, and an RBI double by shortstop Hannah Krokonko, a run-scoring groundout off the bat of starting pitcher Kelly Haslett, and a two-run single by first baseman Lexi Hilzendeger produced the runs that gave Ambridge an early 4-0 cushion.
"At this level, in this type of a game, you can't give a good team any type of an advantage,'' Hollidaysburg coach Dennis Carter said. "They hit the ball well the whole game, but we were able to keep them at bay for the most part. In the [third] inning, we opened the door, and they took advantage of the situation.''
Ambridge coach James "Bubba" Huwar was thankful for his team's early lead.
"When you get out ahead in a playoff situation like today, it's tough for the other team to fight back,'' Huwar said. "We hit the ball hard on a couple of occasions, and when you can hit the ball hard, you can make things happen.''
Hollidaysburg did fight back admirably, scoring single runs in the third inning, on Mercer's sacrifice fly that plated starting sophomore pitcher Alyssa Pheasant, and the fourth inning, when center fielder Jordan Stubbs doubled and scored on left fielder Payton Civils' single to cut the deficit in half at 4-2.
Ambridge answered with a run in the top of the fifth inning, which catcher Jaymee Humbert started with a leadoff double. Humbert was run for by Jill Loftus, who eventually scored from third base on Hilzendeger's single to center.
"Lexi hit a couple hard shots that found some holes today, and that helped us,'' Huwar said of Hilzendeger, who drove home three runs in the game.
Pheasant pitched creditably for Hollidaysburg, scattering 11 Ambridge hits in a complete-game effort. Ambridge's pitching duo of Haslett and Hannah Smith did even better. Haslett pitched the first five innings, allowing five hits and two runs before giving way to Smith after walking the leadoff batter in the sixth.
Smith finished strong, pitching two scoreless innings and allowing only one infield single. Hollidaysburg had runners on first and second base with two outs in the sixth inning when Smith induced Civils to line to first base and into an unassisted double play.
"Haslett is a 10th grader, and she did a nice job pitching today,'' Huwar said. "We played good defense, and the double play was big for us.''
Civils came up with the defensive play of the game in the top of the seventh inning, snaring Hilzendeger's line drive to the left-center field gap while fully extended.
Hollidaysburg graduates six seniors - Mercer, Stubbs, second baseman Marissa Rosensteel, catcher Taylor Herr, third baseman Elizabeth Carter, and first baseman Kathleen Sheehan. But the Lady Tigers return a good nucleus from this year's district championship team that finished 12-11.
"This team has come a long way,'' said Mercer, noting Hollidaysburg's turnaround this year after the Lady Tigers' previous two softball squads had won a total of just four games combined. "It's been a really good season, and a privilege to play here. There are no regrets. It's been a heck of a ride.''
AMBRIDGE (5): Mueller 2b-cf 412, Allen 2b 000, Krokonko ss 412, Haslett p-1b 401, Smith cf-p 411, Humbert c 302, Loftus cr 010, Sivewright 3b 300, Hilzendeger 1b 402, Platz rf 300, Fetkovich lf 311. Totals - 32-5-11.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (2): Pheasant p 401, Carter 3b 201, Rosensteel 2b 000, Shay dh 300, Mercer ss 200, Beaudoin rf 200, Herr c 301, Moreland cr 000, Stubbs cf 312, Civils lf 301, Sheehan 1b 210. Totals - 24-2-6.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Ambridge004 010 0-5 11 1
Hollidaysburg001 100 0-2 6 3
E-Mueller, Krokonko, Carter 2, Pheasant. 2B-Krokonko, Humbert, Stubbs. RBI-Hilzendeger 3, Krokonko, Haslett, Mercer, Civils. SB-Haslett 2, Smith. SAC-Sivewright, Platz, Carter 2. SF -Mercer. DP-Ambridge 2. LOB -Ambridge 9, Hollidaysburg 7.
AMBRIDGE: Haslett (W): 5+IP, 2R, 1ER, 3SO, 3BB; Smith (SV), 2IP, OR, OER, 1SO, OBB.
HOLLIDAYSBURG: Pheasant (L), 7IP, 5R, 2ER, 3SO, 1BB.
WP-Pheasant. PB-Herr 2.
Records: Ambridge (18-4); Hollidaysburg (12-11).
Umpires: Greg Barger (plate); Randy Lose (1b); Tracy Cornelius (2b); Craig Burris (3b).