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WARWICK — The possibility of an abrupt end loomed over Annville-Cleona’s season when the Little Dutchmen battled the Penn Manor Comets in the Lancaster-Lebanon League softball quarterfinals.

But there were still important steps for A-C to take and big plays still to make, and in the end the Dutchmen softball team showcased great strides despite falling 2-1 to the Comets Monday night at Warwick High School.

“We were probably a little timid but once the game started we kind of got comfortable,” said A-C’s senior shortstop Morgan Zimmerman. “We were like hey, we can do this. We gave it a shot.”

Zimmerman took a pitch off her finger on the first delivery of the game from Comet starter Brittany Hook and promptly stole second base. Lauren Schrader walked following an eight-pitch at-bat, with both runners advancing on a wild pitch.

One out later, Amber Rexrode fought back from an 0-2 count before grounding into a fielder’s choice to Comets’ third-baseman Addy Long. Long’s throw home was not in time to stop Zimmerman from sliding in safely, giving the Dutchmen (12-8) a 1-0 lead.

The Comets (19-1) answered in the bottom of the first, loading the bases on three straight singles including a pair of well-placed bunts. But A-C pitcher Kayla Grubb induced a fielder’s choice to Alyssa Binkley at third base and a pop-out to Sarah Fischer at second as the Dutchmen nearly squeaked out of the inning unscathed.

Long came up to bat, however, and grounded a sharp single through the 5-6 hole into left, plating a pair of runs for a 2-1 lead — a lead that Hook would ultimately make stand-up with a 15-strikeout, 1-hit performance.

“(The Comets) have a good pitcher that can control both sides, the inside and outside, and my girls never gave up,” said A-C’s first year coach Melvin Dorta. “We made the routine plays and the hard plays. I cannot be any prouder of these girls, they did really good today.”

The Comets, who will face Donegal (20-2) in Tuesday’s semifinals at Garrett Field in Willow Street, opened the second inning with a pair of singles but the Dutchmen defenders were dead set on not allowing any more runs.

With one out, Zimmerman went to her knees to stop a sharp grounder and threw to Rexrode at home to nab the lead runner at the plate, just one of several terrific plays from the shortstop.

A-C’s defense continued in the third, with Schrader making a clean pick at first base on Zimmerman’s lone misfire of the game before Cayla Gassert ran into the right-centerfield gap to snag Long’s two-out drive.

Then, following a leadoff triple in the fourth, the A-C defense stranded Cheyanne Ortman at third thanks to solid back-up from left fielder Katie Shaak and swift plays by Binkley and Zimmerman on the right side of the infield.

“That’s something that I saw from day one, when I had my first open gym,” Dorta said of his team’s defense. “I saw they were really athletic, and had that in the back pocket. I made some adjustments with foot work and stuff, they took that and showed they can play.”

Grubb and her defense stranded back-to-back singles in the fifth on a force at third, a foul-out to first, and a good running catch from Michaela Singer in centerfield to end another Comet threat, before Grubb retired the Comets 1-2-3 in the bottom of the sixth.

“She was mixing good pitches,” Dorta said of Grubb, who struck-out none and walked none. “She was getting ahead and I told her to pitch to contact. She went 3-2 to one batter but besides that she kept the ball down, she mixed her pitches and the defense helped her big time.”

“(Penn Manor) is a good team and for us to play solid defense against them, our heads are up,” Zimmerman said. “We’re not disappointed in how we played.”

Destinee Loy grounded a two-out single through the right side in the third for the Dutchmen’s lone hit. From there Hook retired 13 in a row including striking-out the side in the seventh.

But by that time, A-C had already proven itself in likely its lone post-season appearance — A-C currently sits seventh in the six-team District 3 Class-3A field — and while a slew of seniors move forward with their athletic careers, Dorta can look forward to Year Two at the helm of the Dutchmen.

“I like challenges, I like new stuff, and I think this is a (positive) challenge for me,” Dorta offered. “I had a blast. These were really good girls and I’m excited for many years to come at A-C.”

Penn Manor 2, Annville-Cleona 1 

AC1  0  00  0  00 — 1 1 0 

PM2  0  00  0  00 — 2 9 0 

Kayla Grubb and Amber Rexrode. Brittany Hook and Sydney Duplissey.

WP—Hook. LP—Grubb. SO-BB—Grubb 0-0. Hook 15-1.

3B—Cheyanne Ortman (PM)

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