Wildcats still headed to PIAA state tournament

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MILLERSVILLE — What Dallastown couldn't get done, Lower Dauphin did and that was the difference in Thursday evening's District 3 Class AAAA third-place game at Millersville University.

The Wildcats didn't capitalize on a leadoff triple, while Lower Dauphin engineered a leadoff single into a run during the sixth inning of what turned out to be a 1-0 win by the Falcons.

Both teams already qualified for the PIAA state tourney, which opens Monday. Dallastown (18-4) is the No. 4 seed out of District 3 and will play District 1 champ Perikiomen Valley, which captured its first-ever district crown with a nine-inning, 1-0 win over Avon Grove on Thursday. Lower Dauphin (23-3) is the No. 3 seed and will meet District 6 winner Mifflin County.

"We feel we can play with anybody, we've shown that," said Dallastown first-year coach Howie Merriman. "We just need to find our way to win these one-run games. This was the second one in a row. We're going to have to work on some small ball and work on execution." 

Lower Dauphin won the game in the bottom of the sixth as Kaylee Stoner beat out an infield hit to shortstop, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a ground out to second. Cleanup hitter Ava Bottiglia then pulled the first pitch down the left-field line for a double.

"It was a close play (on Stoner's infield hit)," Merriman said. "I wouldn't want to be the one calling that one. We would need a slow-motion replay to see if she was safe or not. If I could take anything back, it would be the screwball that (Bottiglia) hit down the line. We came inside very seldom and the few times we did, we paid for it." 

Bottiglia also excelled on the mound, fanning 12 Dallastown batters while walking two. She allowed two third-inning singles before escaping that jam, but Lyndee Anders collected the Wildcats' third hit of the game with an inning-opening triple to right-center in the sixth.

With Anders on third and no outs, Merriman opted to swing away with 2-3-4 hitters Kelsie Merriman, Danielle Ludwig and Jaelynn Harbold.

Bottiglia again escaped further damage by inducing two strikeouts and a soft liner to shortstop to end the inning.

"That's the frustrating part," Merriman said. "As a coach, you look back and wonder if I should have bunted the two-hole hitter (Merriman) who is a pretty good bunter, but they played their defense in for a play at the plate, so they were going after my runner (on third) either way. I figured with 2-3-4, let's hit away. A deep fly ball scores (Anders) and even a flare hit with the infield in scores her. It just didn't work out for us."

Dallastown got a two-out single by No. 7 hitter Delaney Kolb in the seventh, but a ground out ended the game.

Harbold fanned five and held a Lower Dauphin team that scored 10 or more runs 14 times this season to four hits.

"She has stepped up her game in districts as great players do," Merriman said. "If we can put some bats behind that, we'll be okay."

The Falcons were the defending District 3 Class AAAA champs and advanced to the quarterfinals of states a year ago. Lower Dauphin made both the district and state playoff finals in 2014.

"We are still in it," Merriman said. "As long as we have outs, we still have life. We'll keep on going.

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