Beitler's 8th inning homer leads McKeesport past Baldwin in opening round
Junior pitcher Jess Beitler didn't have her best stuff against Baldwin on Tuesday in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
It didn't help that McKeesport's defense committed five errors in the first six innings.
All that aside, when it came time for both to knuckle down with the game on the line, Beitler and her Tigers teammates performed brilliantly.
Kai Gooden singled home the tying run with two outs in the top of the seventh to send the game to extra innings. Then Beitler smashed a two-run go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth.
Finally, second baseman Courtney Patterson threw out two Baldwin baserunners at the plate in the bottom of the inning as sixth-seeded McKeesport (17-4) came away with an 11-10, come-from-behind win over the 11th-seeded Highlanders at Fairhaven Park.
“The first pitch was a perfect pitch, and I swung at it and it went out,” Beitler said. “I didn't imagine it at all. I really didn't.”
It was McKeesport's first playoff win since the WPIAL and PIAA expanded to four classifications in 2005.
“They practiced so hard, and they were hitting. So was Baldwin, but it came down to who wanted it a little bit more,” McKeesport coach Missy Conrad said. “Jess came up with a hit when she needed it, and she came up with the pitch when she needed it.”
Baldwin (11-9) also came up with the hits it needed to tie the score in the eighth but couldn't finish the job. Trailing, 11-9, Mallory O'Brien walked and Kayla Eberst, who went 5 for 5, singled. Abby Suhoski doubled home O'Brien to get the Highlanders back within a run.
Eberst also tried to score on the play but was thrown out by a perfect relay throw from Patterson to senior catcher Kasey Dansak as McKeesport clung to its one-run lead. Melissa Paterni followed with a one-hopper to Patterson, who immediately snapped a throw to the plate to put out Suhoski with room to spare.
“I just knew that my throws had to be on, and that's all we talked about the day before game,” Patterson said. “Coach told me, ‘If you think you can get her, get her,' and that's what I did because I was just confident in my throws.”
While McKeesport had its problems in the field in the first six innings — six of Baldwin's first nine runs were unearned — the team hit the ball as well as it had all season. Dansak hit a solo shot in the third, and Dom Clark poked a two-run opposite-field homer to right off starter Ana Hale in the fifth. Mai Gooden greeted reliever Jamie Schleicher with a three-run rip to center field in the sixth, and Beitler capped the day with a two-run bomb over the left-field concession stand in the eighth.
“This is my third trip to the playoffs, and this is the same type of game we had my freshman year,” Dansak said. “We knew we had to keep fighting even if they went up two or three runs, and everybody just listened and we did it.”