SOFTBALL: A-C bid to clinch section falls short
ANNVILLE >> Annville-Cleona and Pequea Valley have gone down to the wire before for the Section Four softball title, and they're headed there again.
In a dead heat, at this point.
The arch rivals squared off in yet another contest dripping with section title implications on Friday, and in the process all but assured themselves of at least one more showdown this season.
Winners of the last three Section Four championships, the Braves prevented A-C from sewing up its first since 2010 with a gut-check 1-0 victory at Annville-Cleona High School.
Now an identical 11-4 in the section heading into their regular season finales on Monday, A-C and Pequea weren't separated by much on Friday, either.
The game's only run came via an outfield error in the third, giving Pequea Valley's sophomore ace Sabrina Ryan all the support she would need for her 15-strikeout, complete-game shutout.
"Every year it seems like it's one of us, and we can never make it an easy, clear-cut (winner)," said Pequea Valley coach and A-C alum Amy (Rill) Shay. "It always seems to take multiple games to win it. It's always close, always coming down to the line with Annville and us."
A-C coach Dave Bentz would have obviously preferred to decide the section winner on Friday, but Ryan and the Braves had other ideas.
Not that the Little Dutchmen didn't have their chances, putting the leadoff batter on in three of the seven innings and stranding eight on the bases despite managing just three hits.
The frustration reached its zenith in the bottom of the seventh when Veronica Wampler was gunned down at the plate trying to score from third on Morgan Zimmerman's grounder to second.
"We missed a great opportunity, at home," A-C coach Dave Bentz said. "We were playing pretty good softball and getting good-pitched games from Emma (Lerchen). We wasted an opportunity."
A-C got another strong outing from Lerchen on Friday, as the junior right-hander also tossed a three-hitter while striking out seven.
But two of the hits surrendered came in the third, when Lydia Cacciola and Ally Feister smacked back-to-back singles. Feister's hit was misplayed in left field, allowing Cacciola to charge home with what would be the game's only run.
It would be the only run because Ryan had A-C hitters flailing at air, at least when it mattered most.
Amber Rexrode, Wampler and Mindy Reigle managed hits, and three walks, two errors and a strikeout-passed ball created more opportunities.
But A-C simply could not capitalize on the chances.
"Herb Brooks (said), 'Great moments are made from great opportunities," said Bentz, channeling the late U.S. Olympic hockey coach. "And we didn't take advantage of that. All we had to do a couple times was put the bat on the ball and we couldn't do it."
Ryan, of course, had a lot to do with that.
"She's been doing a great job in the circle," Shay said of Ryan. "She can paint corners and change speeds and let the kids play defense. She does a nice job."
A-C seemed to finally have Ryan on the ropes in the seventh, when Wampler led off with a bloop infield single and went to third on Reigle's line single to right with one out.
Reigle then moved up to second on defensive indifference, putting the winning run in scoring position.
But neither runner would score, after Feister scooped Zimmerman's grounder and fired home to nab Wampler and Ryan struck out the next hitter to end the game.
The outcome all but assures a one-game winner-take-all playoff for the section crown next week, assuming A-C and Pequea win on Monday against Lancaster Catholic and Columbia, respectively.
"It's every year, and it'll keep continuing," Bentz said of the annual battle for section supremacy with Pequea. "We have a good bunch of kids, and they're very young. It'll be every year."
And, most likely, again next week.
Pequea Valley 1, Annville-Cleona 0
Pequea Valley 0010000—132Annville-Cleona0000000—031
W — Sabrina Ryan; L — Emma Lerchen;
SO-BB — PV: Ryan (7 IP, 15 K, 3 BB), AC: Lerchen (7 IP, 7 K, 0 BB)