It took a little over 24 hours to complete. And the amount of stress involved probably cost the combatants and their supporters a few years off their lives.
But ask anyone connected with the Annville-Cleona softball program about all of that and they'll tell you the same thing: It was worth it.
With its own unique style and at least outward grace, A-C flipped a rather hefty ape off its collective back Wednesday afternoon, knocking off five-time district champion and perennial thorn-in-the-side Brandywine Heights, 6-3, in a tension-filled, drawn-out District Three Class AA semifinal clash at Millersville University.
Still smarting from a heartbreaking extra-inning district title game loss to the Bullets a year ago, as well as narrow district defeats to the Berks County powerhouse in 2010 and 2007, A-C gained its long-desired revenge over two days.
It jumped out to a 5-1 lead Tuesday before seeing the contest suspended by a thunderstorm with Brandywine Heights batting with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Then, after some likely tossing and turning Tuesday night and daydreaming during school Wednesday, the Little Dutchmen returned to Millersville late Wednesday to finish the job behind a balanced team effort fronted by Chrisi Lerchen's complete-game two-hit pitching.
No. 4 seed A-C (17-6) now gets a shot at its first district title since 2006
That is, if they come down off that cloud they were floating on after sending the top-seeded Bullets (19-4) packing while also locking up their second straight trip to the PIAA state playoffs that get under way Monday.
"It's the greatest feeling, it feels like we won the district championship even though we have another game,"
Part of the reason for that was Brandywine Heights' overwhelming success in recent years against both A-C and everybody else it faced in districts. So even though A-C was in possession of a four-run lead when play resumed Wednesday - thanks to Ditzler's aforementioned double and RBI singles by Crystal Miller and Anique Varela on Tuesday - that advantage didn't feel the least bit safe.
"It was nerve-racking," said A-C coach Dave Bentz. "I said to them, 'One thing we have to understand is these guys are gonna make a push. They're not five-time district champs for nothing. They're gonna make a push, whether it's the fifth inning, the sixth inning or the seventh inning. We have to understand that we need to push back.'"
The Bullets were true to Bentz's words, rallying for two runs in the fifth after a shaky Lerchen surrendered three walks and a two-RBI single to No. 3 hitter Shelby Snyder in her first mound action of the day.
"I had kind of a nervous thing going on," Lerchen said with a smile of her rough fifth inning. "We got here a little late, we weren't allowed to get out early because of finals at school. I had to warm up really quick and we didn't
Lerchen did indeed come back and find her form. With runners on first and third and the damage on the verge of increasing, the tiny sophomore righthander stood tall, retiring Taylor Brintzenhoff on a fly ball to Veronica Wampler in right to end the threat.
She then went on to retire the final six hitters she faced with the help of airtight defensive play from the infield of Varela, Ditzler, Kelsey Schubert and Kaylynn McKinney and center fielder Crystal Miller, who squeezed Amanda Hess's fly ball to center for the final out in the seventh.
"Chrisi's been doing a phenomenal job, coming in as a sophomore and taking over the pitching spot," Ditzler said. "She throws a lot of junk, so people think coming in, 'I got this girl beat.' But Chrisi proves 'em wrong just about every time. I like playing behind her because I know she's gonna do a solid job and give 100 percent every time."
Not to be overlooked in the grand scheme of things was the stress-reducing insurance run A-C put up in the top of the seventh. McKinney led off by crushing a double to left-center, moved to third on Haley Hirn's deep fly to center, then raced home when Darian Brenner smacked a hard ground single off the glove of third baseman Sam Sweigert and through a drawn-in infield.
In short, A-C did everything that championship teams do to put itself in position to actually be one.
"It feels so good," Lerchen said, grinning broadly. "Our seniors hadn't ever beaten them, so it feels good to do it for them. I just wanted this because Dave wanted it, he hadn't beaten them for the last five years, I guess. It just felt really good."
Not quite as good as a championship would feel, though, if A-C is fortunate enough to pass another difficult test against Kutztown.
"We can't be satisfied with this game," Bentz said. "Like I tell them, 'We don't get dressed up for nothing.' So let's get dressed up and go home winners. I guarantee we will show up tomorrow and put our best foot forward. We'll be here to play tomorrow. I always say, 'We live to play another day.' We'll see what happens."