Philipsburg-Osceola ends Valley's season
INDIANA -- Valley senior pitcher Bethany Nealer grimaced as a ball was drilled past her foot into center field.
Nealer wasn't injured on the play. She was in pain for another reason. Valley's dreams of a state softball title were slipping away, hit by excruciating hit.
Nealer, who had dominated the opposition throughout the playoffs, was figured out by Philipsburg-Osceola in a 7-2 loss in the PIAA Class AA semifinals on Monday afternoon at Indiana (Pa.) University's Podbielski Field.
The defeat ended one of the most successful seasons in local softball history.
"This was the best hitting team against Bethany," said Valley coach Carol Perroz, who fought back tears after the game. "They laid off the rise ball. They stayed disciplined on that, and she had to bring it down."
P-O collected 13 hits, including two doubles, and two walks. Nealer had three strikeouts, which was below her average of 11.8 per game entering the contest.
P-O grabbed the lead with three runs in the top of the fifth inning and broke open the game with four runs in the seventh.
This game marked only the second time Valley had surrendered more than three runs. The first was a 5-4 loss to Class AAAA Hempfield. In six previous playoff games combined, Valley had given up one unearned run.
"We have a good hitting team, one through nine," P-O coach Jim Gonder said. "We have a contact hitting team, not a lot of power, to be honest with you, but a contact team."
P-O (22-4) will take on Brandywine Heights in the PIAA Class AA final at 10 a.m. Friday at Shippensburg's Robb Field.
Valley (20-2) finished its season after winning the WPIAL title and two PIAA playoff games.
"They were hitting the ball like crazy, and we hadn't seen that much hitting against Bethany -- ever," Valley senior second baseman Erica Brubaker said. "What can you do• They were a great team."
Valley also struggled in the field, committing five errors, and made a couple of base-running gaffes that resulted in double plays.
Senior Erica Teichman started the bottom of the second inning with a walk. After Maureen Pallone grounded out, Teichman was caught in a rundown between second and third and tagged out.
Valley took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third.
Nealer singled down the right-field line and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Brubaker chopped a slow bouncer to shortstop Lauren Stoutt, who took her eye off the ball and let it sneak under her glove. Nealer took advantage of the miscue and sprinted home.
The Lady Vikings held onto their one-run advantage until the top of the fifth and looked to be cruising to another low-scoring victory. That's when things began to turn sour.
P-O scored three runs on three hits and an error in the top of the fifth to take a lead it would not relinquish.
Valley answered back in the bottom of the fifth. Junior Lucy Jackson, the No. 8 hitter, led off by smacking a double over the left fielder's head. Jackson advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Elise Zavadak and scored on a groundout to the shortstop by Nealer.
That cut P-O's lead to 3-2.
P-O loaded the bases in the top of the sixth before Nealer was able to induce a rally-ending groundout.
In the bottom of the sixth, senior Ashley Pallone and sophomore Olivia Traini singled with one out. But Teichman lined the ball to the third baseman, who saw Pallone break for third and quickly threw to second for a double play.
P-O's bats could not be quieted, and the Lady Mounties scored four runs on five hits and two errors in the top of the seventh.
Valley went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
"I just pulled them aside and told them how proud I am of them," Perroz said, with her voice quivering. "Excuse me. I'm a little emotional. They've done everything I've asked of them. This loss doesn't take away from their season."