Miracle catch dooms Burrell softball
BROCKWAY — From the moment the ball came off the bat, it seemed that Nina Spagnolo had given Burrell an early lead in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals against Philipsburg-Osceola.
It was a dying liner to center that would easily score Justine Damico from first and give the Bucs the first run of the game.
That was before Mounties center fielder Mary Harpster came flying in, dove to her right and speared the ball just before it hit the ground. She saved a run, swung the early momentum in Philipsburg-Osceola's favor and started the team toward a 5-1 victory over Burrell (18-4).
"I think that first inning, when we had one on, no outs and Spagnolo hits that ball to center field, that shot — and the catch that girl made — changed the whole course of this game. I guarantee it," Burrell coach Mike Spagnolo said. "If that goes through, and she's laid out like that, we're up, 1-0 or 2-0, and it's a different ball game. She made a game-saver."
Damico had drawn a walk off Philipsburg-Osceola starter Chelsea Rex to open the game, and Spagnolo had worked the count to 3-2 before she rifled the shot to center. After Harpster made the catch, though, Rex settled in and, after Damico was caught stealing, she struck out Kaitlyn Sweeney on four pitches to end the threat.
"I've been coaching 31 years and that's the best catch I've seen," Philipsburg-Osceola coach Jim Gonder said. "If she doesn't make that catch, they've got a run in and now who's (nervous)• That was a huge play early in the game."
It was one of only two hard-hit balls against Rex all afternoon, as the Mounties' starter was in control throughout. She only allowed one hit — a second-inning double to the right-center gap to mound counterpart Casey Moses — and struck out nine.
Burrell's only run against Rex was an unearned tally in the top of the seventh while she was holding on to a five-run lead. Moses also drove in the Bucs' lone run on a ground out.
Still, after missing out on the early opportunities, it was obvious that Burrell had lost a bit of its edge. Once the Bucs fell behind, 2-0, when Philipsburg-Osceola scored a pair in the third, though, they started to force the play.
That was especially evident at the plate, where they were no longer patient against Rex. The Bucs worked four full counts in the first two innings but only went full against Rex three other times in the final five.
"It seemed like the wind got knocked out of them, and they couldn't get it back," Mike Spagnolo said. "The way we played when we played the WPIAL final (against Valley), it was a slugfest back and forth ... and this team didn't show up today. They were a little tired, and they weren't ready. And I have to say they got outplayed. That's a good team out there."