Lady Rams Win PIAA Softball Opener
State softball championships are built on pitching, defense and timely hitting, sometimes from unexpected sources.
Wyalusing Valley used all three en route to a 1-0 win over West Branch in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs at Bloomsburg on June 6.
Gabby Edsell scored Wyalusing’s only run in the fourth inning on a passed ball.
Even with another stellar outing in the pitching circle by Brianna Jennings, it took an outstanding defensive play by right fielder Caitlyn Doerner in the sixth inning to preserve the victory.
On a hot, hazy day at Bloomsburg University’s Jan Hutchinson Field, Edsell opened the fourth inning of the scoreless tie with a hard line-drive to left field, Wyalusing’s only hit off West Branch’s Jada Larson.
Edsell moved to third base on a comebacker by Chelsea Epler, who was out at first.
Larson then recorded a strikeout for the second out of the inning, setting up the first of two game-defining plays.
With a 1-2 count on Ciera Holland, Larson’s low pitch skipped past the catcher all the way to the backstop, allowing Edsell to race home with the game-winning run.
“It was a perfect pitch,” Edsell said of the hit. “It seemed right down the middle to me. It didn’t have any spin on it.”
Lady Ram coach John Loomis has appreciated how Edsell has stepped up her play in the post-season.
“She started it off and hit it on the button,” he said of the double.
“We got a little break with the passed ball.
“She’s really come through the latter part of the year,” he said, adding, “she’s done an amazing job behind the plate.”
“This is my last year,” Edsell said. “I want to make the most of it and go as far as we can. Now that we’ve won districts, I don’t want to stop. I just want to keep on going.”
Wyalusing still needed to cling to the slim lead through nine more outs.
After a somewhat shaky start that saw West Branch strand five base runners in the first two innings, including a bases-loaded situation in the first frame, Jennings had been masterful, retiring 11 straight batters.
In the top of the sixth, Leanna Bell reached on a chopper that bounced between shortstop and third base.
After the next batter popped out to Cathryn Pugh, Larson came to the plate.
On a two-strike count, Larson uncoiled on a pitch, ripping a hard liner to right field.
Doerner ranged far to her right, tracking down the ball with a one-hand stab, robbing Larson of an extra-base hit and likely preserving the lead.
“I saw it hit and I knew I had to get to it,” said Doerner, a senior who won the right fielder job in the latter part of the regular season. “I was pretty confident I could get it.”
Admitting that her experience as a goaltender for the soccer team may have helped, Doerner confessed it wasn’t an easy catch.
“It was across my body,” she said.
Loomis rates it as one of the best defensive plays he has witnessed.
“That was maybe the greatest catch I’ve seen in a high school game,” he said. “All the pressure on that kid. How does she do it? I’ve got one word. Amazing!
“We’re still playing if Caitlyn Doerner doesn’t make that play. I’ve got chills from it. It was remarkable.”
Jennings fanned the final four batters she faced, bringing her strikeout total to 11 for the game.
“Bri Jennings was on,” Loomis said. “She made a living in the strike zone.”
She issued three walks, all in the first two innings when West Branch had its best chance to score against the senior hurler.
Singles by West Branch’s Desire Albright and Bethany Kopchik and a walk to Larson loaded the bases with two outs.
Jennings got out of that jam with a strikeout, ending a spirited at-bat by West Branch’s McKayla Ahlberg.
“I went out in the first inning and told her to be careful with Larson,” Loomis said.
“I didn’t care if we put her on. Sometimes you have to look at the best hitter and not let that kid beat you. She put her on and we got the next out.”
In the second inning, Missy Croyle and Jenessa Ceprish both earned one-out walks.
Again, Jennings stepped up with two consecutive strikeouts to end the threat.
Wyalusing also wasted two scoring opportunities early in the game.
With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Jennings reached on an error.
Larson, who otherwise was solid if not spectacular in the circle for West Branch, then hit Arielle Kneller and Edsell to load the bases.
She came up with an inning-ending strikeout—the first of four she had on the day—to end the inning.
In the second inning, Pugh reached on an error and got to scoring position on Lauren Chadwick’s two-out sacrifice bunt.
An infield popout ended that threat.
Wyalusing, now 19-3, has yet to give up a run during the post-season.
The Lady Rams will play Old Forge in the PIAA quarterfinals today (June 9) at Bloomsburg University, starting at 1 p.m.
Old Forge, the District Two champion, defeated Greenwood, 5-3, in its PIAA opener Monday.