Thomas Jefferson edges Mars in 9-inning thriller
On a night full of excitement for the Thomas Jefferson softball team, Lacie Lautner stayed calm.
Lautner outdueled Niki Schlegel in a battle of sophomore pitchers who went the distance, Kyla Prickett homered and drove in three runs and Thomas Jefferson scored twice with two outs in the top of the ninth inning to beat Mars, 5-3, in the Class AAA championship game at Cal (Pa.) for the Jaguars' first WPIAL title.
Lautner shut out Mars over the final six innings, surviving seven hits, and Thomas Jefferson finally got to Schlegel with two runs in the ninth to break a 3-3 tie on a throwing error and Prickett's RBI single.
“I just stayed calm with every inning,” said Lautner, who struck out five and walked three. “When I get into a position where it's a tight game like this, I go into what I call my own land. I just tune everyone out.”
After both teams scored single runs in the first and two in the third, Lautner escaped in the fifth, when she gave up singles to Erin Hershman and Kasey Jones to lead off the inning, and the sixth, after Suzanne Papik and Blake Kitt hit two-out singles.
Mars put the leadoff batter on in the seventh and had a one-out single in the eighth and a two-out single in the ninth but couldn't score.
“Our timing wasn't good for getting the hits when we needed them,” Mars coach Michele Goodworth said. “It's not the outcome we expected today, but we're still playing and we look forward to getting back here again next year.”
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs on Monday at sites to be determined. Thomas Jefferson will face the District 6 champion Bellefonte, and Mars will meet District 9 champion St. Marys.
Thomas Jefferson (15-6), the 13th seed, took a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI double by Lauren Herazo. Mars (12-5), the 11th seed, tied it in the bottom of the inning. Papik led off with a single, advanced to third on a pair of passed balls, then eventually scored when Lautner walked three consecutive batters — Kitt, Hershman and Kasey Jones.
Prickett's two-run homer gave Thomas Jefferson a 3-1 lead in the third before Mars again tied it in the bottom of the inning. Hershman and Jones singled, with Hershman later scoring on a groundout by Marina Manupelli. Courtesy runner Katelyn Hoover scored when Mallory Eperesi reached on an error.
In the top of the ninth, Bayli Moon singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Becca Bachman. Lautner then flied out to right and Moon tagged for third. The throw from Mars rightfielder Jeanna Sybert hit Moon and bounced past the bag, allowing Moon to score.
Rachel Bowers followed with a single and reached second on a fielding error and third on a wild pitch. She scored on Prickett's single through the right side of the infield.
“This is just so exciting. It's a team effort. We worked so hard for it,” Prickett said. “It's just awesome.
Both teams had 11 hits, with Bowers getting three for Thomas Jefferson and Jones getting three for Mars.
Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher, who engineered a dramatic turnaround for the Jaguars from last year's three-win season, deflected any credit, instead giving it all to her team.
“They deserve it,” she said. “They worked hard and put up with a lot of tough days of practice indoors and out. We just talked yesterday — indoors, of course — about how this is a team. I told the girls, it doesn't matter what you're doing on that day. If you're in the lineup or not, you have a role on this team.
“This absolutely is the payoff for it all.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.