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SOFTBALL: Great Cedar Crest effort falls just short

OK, you're the Cedar Crest softball team.

You're having a frustrating season. It's Friday, it's unseasonably cold and windy and a formidable Hempfield team that smacked you around 7-0 earlier in the season is coming to town.

What do you do? Show up, take your beating and go enjoy the rest of your weekend? Or fight like crazy to pull off the upset, while playing harder and better than anyone had the right to expect?

Come on now, you know the answer to that. It was an easy question for the Falcons anyway.

Though it came in a loss, Cedar Crest turned in its finest performance of the spring on Friday, pushing Hempfield to 12 innings before falling 3-2 in an extremely well-played Section One encounter at Cedar Crest Middle School.

Down 2-0 after the top of the first inning and seemingly on the way to another drubbing from Hempfield, the Falcons (5-8, 4-8 Section One) instead turned stubborn behind Janell Daullary's game-tying two-run double in the fourth and a brilliant pitching effort from junior Maddie Gable, who retired 20 hitters in a row at one point.

Even the Falcons' ultimate undoing was worthy of a hat tip: Hempfield's Lexie Unangst scored the go-ahead run from third in the top of the 12th when Crest second baseman Kacey Stewart's momentum carried her out of play after a great running catch of a foul pop by Marlena Saylor.

Yeah, it was a loss. But it looked and felt very much like a victory for the Falcons.

"We've come a long way since that first game," said a proud Cedar Crest coach Eric Edwards. "We've been working hard all season, and Maddie's kept us in every game. I'm not surprised by our effort, that's kind of what we've expected out of our girls. We just haven't quite put it together, but I'm really, really proud of our girls for their effort today."

At the top of the list for accolades was Gable, who dueled Hempfield ace Lauren Lichtenwalner on even terms for a dozen innings, including 10 straight scoreless frames after a shaky top of the first.

Gable finished with eight strikeouts and not a single walk to a potent Hempfield club that is now 11-2 overall and 10-2 in Section One.

"She was fantastic," Edwards said of Gable. "One of the things we've been working with the girls on is not giving up on themselves when we give up a couple runs early. And we did that and got 'em right back. But Maddie, she was awesome tonight."

Lichtenwalner was superb as well, except in the fourth, when Gable and Emma Spang stroked back-to-back one-out singles and later scored when Daullary's high fly to left got caught up in the gusty winds and dropped in for a game-tying double.

Unfortunately for Cedar Crest, that was its last timely hit. The Falcons had a few quality scoring chances in extra innings, but squandered them all, including in the eighth when Ashley Maulfair's booming leadoff double to right center went for naught.

"That's something we've struggled with, getting timely hits when we really, really need them," Edwards said. "It happened to us again tonight. But that's how it goes."

Gable, with the help of stellar infield defense — some of it her own — dodged a few bullets in extra innings but couldn't escape the 12th unscathed thanks to Unangst and Saylor, whose fortuitous foul pop turned Stewart's would-be heroics into the game's decisive play.

"It's one of those unfortunate things where she was making a hustle play and her momentum carried her out (of play)," Edwards said. "It almost would have been better to let it drop. But you can't blame her for a great effort like that."

Nor could anyone have blamed the Falcons if they hadn't shown up with their best effort on Friday.

But they did.

"Our girls continue to be hungry," Edwards said. "We want to win. They're committed to each other, they're committed to this team and they're committed to winning games."

Hempfield 3, Cedar Crest 2 (12 innings)

Hemp.200000000001—380 Ced. Crest000200000000—28

W — Lichtenwalner; L — Gable;

SO-BB — H: Lichtenwalner (12 IP, 9 K, 1 BB), CC: Gable (12 IP, 8 K, 0 BB);

2B — H: Unangst, CC: Daullary, Maulfair, ;

3B — H: Popalis;