The Black Knights rallied to defeat Solanco, 2-1 to reach their first league finals since 2013. Video by John Buffone.
WILLOW STREET — While a pair of pitchers remained front and center as the L-L tournament continued Monday night, it was more of the usual suspects who helped their respective teams claim semifinal victories.
Section One rivals Penn Manor and Hempfield punched tickets to a Wednesday night clash after the Comets dispatched Elizabethtown, 7-0, in the opener and the Black Knights capped the doubleheader with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Section Two champion Solanco.
Though the evening’s opening contest provided most of the offensive sparks, Hempfield and Solanco traded jabs throughout the late night.
But the Knights erased a one-run deficit in the fifth inning on Kylie Shreiner’s bases-loaded single and Gabi Turner’s sixth-inning bloop over shortstop, both hits plating winning-pitcher Lauren Lichtenwalner for a pair of runs.
Both of Hempfield’s clutch hits came after Solanco pitched-around Knights’ clean-up hitter Kara Cook.
“Gabi has come up big at least twice for us now, Kylie has come up big at least twice for us now, too,” Lichtenwalner beamed. “The middle of the lineup is just doing awesome right now in just getting the timely hits when we need them.”
Lichtenwalner got things started in the fifth by stretching a single into a double. After both Cook and Turner (2-for-3) walked, Shreiner (2-for-4) followed with a clean single through the left side to tie the score.
But Solanco pitcher Hanna Phillips calmly forced Lexi Harelson into a fielder’s choice to short, Randi Rambo throwing to catcher Bekah Borcky at home plate. Phillips, who worked around seven walks on the night, did likewise with Danielle Steiner’s grounder to the circle, then got a pop-up from Serena Felix to end the threat.
“Solanco, they’re not here by accident,” said Hempfield coach Brian Lohr, crediting Borcky for her run-scoring double in the third inning that gave Solanco the lead. “What I like is, they (the Knights’ players) didn’t collapse. They knew how many innings we had left and they stuck with it. Once we tied it, they felt like they were in a real rhythm.”
With two outs in the sixth, Lichtenwalner (2-for-4, 2R) singled, taking second when the Mares again pitched around Cook. Turner followed with the winning hit, allowing Lichtenwalner (6K, BB) to front-run from the circle in the final two innings.
For the second-straight game, the Knights’ senior ace allowed just two hits, her only real blemish a hit-by-pitch of the Mares’ Bri Firlein, who would score on Borcky’s double.
Now, however, Lichtenwalner and the Knights get to face-off against the rival Comets and ace pitcher Brittany Hook, who was equally effective in the opener.
Hook (4K, 0BB) dominated the speedy Etown lineup by forcing ten groundouts through the first five innings, the majority of which were gobbled up by a motivated Comets defense.
“We were all focused, we knew we had a lot of errors on Saturday,” said centerfielder Dani Wright, adding in the fact that the Comets had plenty of time to rest after Prom on Friday and the quarterfinals on Saturday. “We wanted to come out and get our bats going and get our fielding down pat this time.”
It helped, of course, that the Comets scored five runs in the first inning, Hook homering on the second pitch she saw from Etown pitcher Lauren Allison (5K, 0BB), plating Wright in the process.
“I didn’t have good at-bats on Saturday and that kind of forced me to focus,” Hook said of her performance at the plate. “I worked on my swing, and then the first pitch I was like, ‘all right, I can hit this’ and then she just laid one in there.”
The Comets downs the Bears, 7-0 to reach the L-L League finals on Monday, May 16, 2016. Video by John Buffone.
The Comets would add three unearned runs as two of the Bears’ three errors came in the first. In the second inning, Wright (2-for-4, 2R) tripled to centerfield, Hook doubling her home for a 6-0 lead.
Etown got its first hit from Emily Brubaker in the second, then a pair of infield hits by Jocelyn Zook (2-for-3) and Kirsten Mumma in the third, but couldn’t dent the plate, the Comet defense making the plays when they mattered.
Defense will likely make all the difference Wednesday, with the Knights and Comets set to square off at 7 p.m. back at Garrett Field.
“For us to come this far and knowing we have a chance to be the first (Comets’ softball) team to win in leagues, I think we want it more than anything,” Hook said. “The team that wants it most is the team that’s going to win, so I’m really excited.”
Semifinal Game One
Penn Manor 7, Elizabethtown 0
ET 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 4 3
PM 5 1 0 0 1 0 x — 7 9 1
SO-BB — ET Lauren Allison 5-0; PM Brittany Hook 4-0
WP — Hook; LP — Allison
2B — PM 2 (Bri Wood-Hickey, Brittany Hook)
3B — PM 1 (Dani Wright)
HR — PM 1 (Brittany Hook)
Semifinal Game Two
Hempfield 2, Solanco 1
HM 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 — 2 9 0
SL 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 — 1 2 1
SO-BB — HM Lauren Lichtenwalner 6-1; SL Hanna Phillips 2-7
WP — Lichtenwalner; LP — Phillips
2B — HM 1 (Lauren Lichtenwalner); SL 1 (Bekah Borcky)