UNION — Bekah Slattery was ready. Her team was, too.
With Muhlenberg traveling to Union with first place in the Berks I Conference on the line, Daniel Boone left-handed pitcher Slattery stymied a potent Muhls lineup, racking up 14 strikeouts while allowing one run on six hits as the Blazers regained sole possession of first place with a 6-1 victory on Wednesday afternoon.
"What Bekah does for us on the field is something, but what she does in the dugout, on the team bus, is something else,' Daniel Boone head coach Traci Huddleson said regarding Slattery's leadership.
"We play one inning at a time. Getting one percent better each day is our goal, and we did that today.'
Daniel Boone (5-0 Berks I, 8-0 overall) will face Berks III leader Brandywine Heights (5-0, 7-0) in a battle of unbeatens Thursday afternoon. Brandywine, the 2013 PIAA Class AA champion, leads the conference in runs scored, plating 100 runs so far this season.
"It's going to be good softball (Thursday),' Huddleson said. "We're going to have a team meeting after this but we're ready for Brandywine.'
Muhlenberg (4-2 Berks I, 7-2 overall) received a stellar effort from pitcher Josie Koval, who finished the game with nine strikeouts while allowing seven hits and three earned runs. However, her effort in the circle fell short as Slattery, the reigning Mercury All-Area Player of the Year, was able to pace the Blazers to their second victory over the Muhls this season.
"Fantastic job. She (Koval) was fantastic today,' Huddleson said regarding the Muhls pitcher. "Each inning, she came out stronger as she went on. Kudos to her.'
Gearing up for Thursday's showdown, Slattery was efficient in the circle for the Blazers on Wednesday as she worked the minimum in the first, third and sixth innings before retiring the Muhls in order in the seventh to preserve the victory. The junior finished the day with 78 pitches — 64 for strikes — while throwing a first pitch strike to all but one Muhls batter.
"I was just throwing everything that I had,' the lefthander said. "Everything was working today so I was kind of excited about it.
"I like getting the first pitch strike because then I get to control what goes on. Me and Traci get to throw everything at them then the umpire doesn't get to decide, we get to decide the batter's fate.'
Getting early run support wasn't a bad thing either.
Following a Slattery flyout to start the first inning, Megan Piccarreta worked a walk on an eight-pitch at-bat and Nicole Kovach reached base on an error by the first baseman. With two outs, freshman Gabby Willman delivered with a frozen rope on a 1-0 count to right field, plating both Piccarreta and Kovach to give the Blazers an early 2-0 lead.
"That's a freshman stepping up and doing that in a pivotal moment to start,' Huddleson said concerning Willman's two-run knock. "You just have to take advantage of each moment that you get.'
The two-run cushion was all Slattery needed.
After allowing a leadoff single to Alysia Gauby to open up the second, Slattery went to the riser, getting the next two Muhls' batters to climb the ladder before setting down Mckenna Rusnock Rozzi on three pitches. Slattery was equally as effective in the third, striking out the side while needing only nine pitches to do so.
Daniel Boone's defense, feeding off Slattery's efficiency on the mound, came to her support in the fourth.
After Muhls center fielder Syd McCarthy singled with one out, Heather Natale delivered with a two-out single up the middle but Blazers center fielder Piccarreta was able to gun down McCarthy at the plate to preserve the 2-0 lead.
"That was a pivotal play,' Huddleson said. "Megan (Piccarreta) had the throw spot on, Savannah did her job in applying the tag. It was big.'
The Blazers' rode the momentum of Piccarreta's outfield assist in the bottom half of the inning, plating two runs, one coming from a bunt single from Brooke Piccarreta that scored Willman, the other coming as Cara Shackleford worked her way out of a rundown, scoring as the throw from the Muhls third baseman hit her in the back before ricocheting to the backstop.
Slattery allowed a run in the fifth as Tiersa Curry was brought home by a Koval dribbler to the first baseman. Nevertheless, Slattery worked an efficient sixth and seventh, facing the minimum to seal the win.
"We have great leadership from our upperclassmen and our freshmen are really receptive to that,' Slattery said. "That's an awesome thing; we're blending at the right time.'
"Everyone on this team is willing to do whatever it takes to get that one run across,' Huddleson said. "We can't ask for any more than that as a coaching staff because that is a sacrifice that each player is willing to make.'Follow Sam Stewart on Twitter @Samuel_Stewart7