LAURELDALE — The Daniel Boone softball team had suffered its first loss of the year in last week's Berks Conference championship game, and was well aware that a letdown and a second loss on Tuesday night would mean the end of the season.
So the Blazers did whatever they could to scratch out some runs in their District 1-AAAA playoff opener at Muhlenberg High School and rode a 14-strikeout performance by Bekah Slattery to a 3-1 win over Central Dauphin East.
Boone advances to a Thursday quarterfinal at a time and place to be determined against Cumberland Valley, a 7-6 winner in nine innings over Warwick.
Slattery fanned at least two in every inning except the sixth and wrapped up the win with a strikeout with two runners on. Savannah Toth reached base to start three innings with a double, a single, and a walk, leading to two runs for the top-seeded Blazers (22-1).
Marissa Butts, Jayla Allen, and Antonice Mason each picked up two hits for the 16th-seeded Panthers (11-10), who tied for fifth place in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division.
Junior catcher Toth did not think her team had any kind of a letdown after the 2-0 setback to Brandywine Heights in last Wednesday's Berks title game.
"No, no,' she said. "It just gave us more motivation. We just know we can stick with anyone. They're here. We're here. We're all here for a reason. All the teams are good.
"We like coming to districts because we always play like it can be our last game,' said Slattery, a junior left-hander. "We put everything out on the field.'
C.D. East threatened to take the lead in the top of the second when Allen — who hit four home runs during the regular season — led off with a single to right and Mason bunted for a hit, but Slattery fanned the next three batters.
Then Toth drilled a double to right-center to lead off the bottom of the frame and courtesy runner Jenna Piccarreta came around to score on a groundout to pitcher Alyssia Brown and a squeeze bunt single by Maggie Koch.
The Panthers tied it in the third when Butts led off with a triple and continued home on a bad relay throw. But Boone went right back on top in its half when Alyssa Garner — who made a heads-up play in right field in the sixth when she recovered a ball that went off the second baseman's glove and made a long, accurate throw to second for a force out — doubled past third with one out and scored on a two-out line single off the first baseman's glove by Megan Piccarreta.
The Blazers, who finished second in the district last year and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals, added an insurance run in the fourth when Toth singled to center and courtesy runner Kamryn Guinta stole second and scored on a throwing error.
Aggressive base running by the Blazers resulted in two outs at the plate, the second on two strong throws by the Panthers when Koch doubled with a runner on first in the sixth. But Slattery came up with big strikeouts when she needed them. She struck out a batter to end each of the seven innings to strand eight runners, including the final one after giving up a bunt single to Brown with one out and her only walk of the game with two away.
"Everything felt really good,' said Slattery, who threw 75 of her 105 pitches for strikes and did not go to three balls on any batter until the walk in the seventh on a full-count pitch. "It was a good day.'
"They're a great hitting team,' Daniel Boone coach Traci Huddleson said concerning East, which had eight hits to the Blazers' six. "But Bekah kept them off balance. The first round of districts, 16 teams left, everyone puts their heart into it. We put the pressure on them and they came through and made some great plays.
"It's all about today — to get one more day together with the senior class. This crew learned a lot from last year. They got a taste of what it feels like. They're leading the underclassmen with the same kind of heart.'