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Ryan's big hit lifts Pequea past A-C

Two games, two classic encounters decided in walk-off fashion.

Not only will there likely be a third Annville-Cleona-Pequea Valley softball matchup this season, there probably should be. If only to see what the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four rivals can cook up next.

As they've done quite a bit over the years, A-C and Pequea produced quality, edge-of-the-seat softball on Tuesday night at Paradise Park, this one a 3-2 walk-off victory for the Braves in nine innings on the strength of winning pitcher Sabrina Ryan's game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.

Back in early April, A-C did the same, walking off with a 5-4 victory via Ally Binkley's two-run single in the bottom of the seventh. Now, because Ryan - sensational with 19 strikeouts - and Pequea turned the tables by rallying from a 2-0 sixth-inning deficit, a one-game playoff to decide the section winner will likely be necessary for the second year in a row.

Now 11-4 and 10-4 in the  section, respectively, Pequea and A-C need only to win out in their three combined remaining games to force another winner-take-all showdown.

Hey, might as well.

"Just a typical A-C-Pequea Valley game," Annville-Cleona coach Dave Bentz said with a shrug. "That's pretty much how it's been the last bunch of years. I don't think there have been any games decided by more than a run, maybe two runs, in the last four or five years. That's just the way it is."

And the way it was again thanks to a Pequea club that simply refused to let A-C spoil its Senior Night.

"As usual," said Pequea coach Amy Shay of another nailibiter between the two rivals. "It's always more pleasant to be on the winning end, but both teams played tough both times. Sometimes the breaks just fall your way."

Both teams made their own breaks Tuesday, and A-C was first in line in that department. Morgan Zimmerman's two-out RBI triple in the third plated Cayla Gassert with the game's first run, and A-C made it 2-0 in the fifth when Lauren Schrader tripled and scored on Michaela Singer's sac fly to left.

But in the sixth, the contest turned permanently in Pequea's favor when A-C ace Emma Lerchen hit Olivia Weaver with the bases loaded to force in a run, just a few pitches after appearing to have struck her out looking on a close 1-2 pitch. Sophia Weaver then followed with an infield single to tie it and eventually force extra innings.

"For some reason, the 17-inch plate got to about 10 inches," Bentz said, lamenting the inning-ending strikeout that wasn't. "I don't know what (the umpire) was looking at. I don't like to complain about it, but to me it looked like a pretty good pitch."

But A-C had its chances to shrug that off and simply couldn't take advantage, most notably in the top of the eighth when it loaded the bases with one out only to see Ryan whiff the next two hitters to escape trouble.

Pequea's ace then completed a brilliant performance with her bat, singling home Aleesha Feister in the ninth to win it and wipe away the memory of the walk-off hit she surrendered to Binkley in the first meeting.

"It was very appropriate," Shtay said of Ryan playing the hero role. "She was very upset from the first game."

And now A-C is the team looking for redemption. If it can beat Lebanon Catholic Wednesday and Columbia on Thursday it will get the chance.

"It's a learning thing," Bentz said. "We learned a lot of lessons today."