SOFTBALL: Hempfield outlasts Warwick in nine innings
LITITZ - Fortunately, an extra burst of unseasonable weather coincided with an extra-inning affair of knock-down, drag-out softball.
In the end, the frozen fingers of Hempfield pitcher Lauren Lichtenwalner and shortstop Nikki Rhoads got the job done Wednesday night in a 3-2, nine-inning triumph versus previously undefeated Section One foe Warwick.
Working around Warwick's lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth, Lichtenwalner calmly executed her pitches. A sacrifice, foul-out to the catcher Zoey Schneck, and groundout to Rhoads preserved the hard-fought victory that evened the playing field in Section One.
"I was a little eager, but scooped it up and threw it and it worked out fine," Rhoads said of the game-ending putout, adding that the win was "a big pick-up for our team."
The win likewise helps Hempfield pick-up ground on the Warriors after the first round of Section play, leaving both teams with identical 4-1 League records.
For a time, it appeared Warwick (6-1 overall) would extend their lead in the Section as the Warriors led Hempfield (4-2) through five innings on the strength of Nicole Mengel's RBI single in the first and an unearned run in the fifth.
But Rhoads' two-run single in the sixth knotted the score at 2-2, giving Lichntenwalner the support she needed. The junior allowed just 4 hits, and seemed all the more determined as the game entered extra-innings.
"Being able to rely on my team and knowing that they have my back, that's honestly what wins games," Lichtenwalner said. "Pitchers don't have to be the best players on the field as long as the team can back them up."
Her counterpart for the Warriors was freshman Amanda Herr, who was in control in the circle and in tune with her defense throughout the better part of the night, forcing six groundouts through the first three innings.
"Amanda has great control," explained Hempfield head coach Brian Lohr, who coached Herr in youth ball. "That curve and screwball will fool you on the outside, and most of our girls like to pull everything. It was tough all night long to remind them she's going to live out there until you start hitting it."
Lohr credited Madyson Popalis's opposite-field double with starting the turnaround in the fourth inning. But Popalis rounded second-base too far with Rhoads on third, the ensuing rundown helping Warwick squirm out of the inning unscathed.
Hempfield's pivotal rally came in the sixth, sparked by a leadoff single from nine-hole batter Bree Wingett. A stolen base and a squibbler between first and second from top-of-the-order hitter Kyra Brakefield eventually produced a second-and-third opportunity for Rhoads.
Rhoads hard liner was fielded cleanly by the strong-armed Ashley Royer in centerfield, but Royer's throw the plate was too late to nab the speedy Brakefield, who had stolen second.
"(Herr) was pitching outside the entire time," Rhoads said of her clutch hit. "We just had to crowd the plate and send it, and I did."
The game-winning run in the ninth came as Lichtenwalner was forced-out at third base following Scheck's comeback grounder to Herr. But the throw to first by third-baseman Mengel on an attempted double-play went wide and out-of-play, giving home to Lexi Unangst, who had singled behind Lichtenwalner with one out.
"I think it's a tough game for our kids," said Warwick head coach Mark Hough. "They really wanted it, they wanted to have control of Section One. But Hempfield feels the same way, they came out and made the plays at the right time. You have to give the credit to them."
The Warriors had an opportunity for a walk-off victory in the bottom of the seventh, a pair of one-out singles putting the winning run on second. But Lichtenwalner finished off the side with a pair of strikeouts, part of her 12 strikeouts for the contest.
"We've had a pretty good start to the season," said Hough, admitting Wednesday's loss could help his young squad grow in the long run. "I think Hempfield came in really focused on playing. They got the big hits at the time and Lauren pitched a whale of a game."
Likewise for the Lady Knights, Wednesday's victory was of the type that can carry them forward.
"I feel like our team atmosphere got stronger," Lichtenwalner said of her performance in the later innings. "Our intensity picked up so therefore I felt stronger out there. Maybe it's not a physical thing, but the mentality of a team, it helps."
Rendering the physical toll of the extra-chilly weather meaningless in the face of extra-innings.
Girls' High School Softball
L-L Section One
Hempfield 3, Warwick 2 (9 innings)
HEM 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 -- 3 9 4
WW 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 -- 2 4 1
WP-L. Lichtenwalner; LP-A. Herr
K-BB-Lichtenwalner (9IP, 12K, 1BB, 1HB) and Z. Schneck; Herr (9IP, 8K, 0BB) and J. High
2B-HEM Popalis; WW A. Christi