Close game goes to Indians

MIFFLINTOWN – In a season that has featured a tough 0-2 start for East Juniata softball – and also a disappointing loss to Greenwood for Juniata in its 1-1 start – both teams hit the field Friday hungry for a win.

Add to this the spirit of rivalry which always shows up when the two cross-county schools meet, and what arose was the perfect recipe for an exciting game.

And that’s exactly what the two teams got.

In a game where it wasn’t clear who would be the winner until the final out, East Juniata took the lead twice, but each time Juniata was able to claw back, resulting in a 5-4 victory for the Indians – their second since returning to the Tri-Valley League.

It all came down to the bottom of the sixth for the Indians, when they put up three runs to overcome a 4-2 deficit for the win.

In this inning, Juniata’s Hali Weiand and Hayley Colyer found themselves on base, setting the stage for catcher Tiffiany Shoop, who hit an RBI single to right field to bring home Weiand. Teammate Macey Minium then hit one to East Juniata’s Sam Lash for the 4-3 out, but it brought Colyer home to tie the game at 4-4.

From there, East Juniata put Ashlyn Erhard on the mound to replace Meisha Heintzelman, who had started the inning, but Juniata’s Kristen Pray wasn’t thrown off by the pitching change.

Swinging at the second pitch she saw, Pray hit a hard line drive into center field, plating Shoop for the 5-4 lead. Erhard then struck out Brinley Irvin and forced Summer Swab to ground out to short for the second and third outs, but by that point the game-winning damage had already been done.

“I said to the girls, ‘We’ve got to do it now. We don’t want to go to the bottom of the seventh to try to do it.’ And they responded well. Hali Weiand had the nice hit to start us off. That was real nice, and then we just kept going,” Juniata coach Brian Sheaffer said.

To end the game in the top of the seventh, Juniata pitcher Irvin handed out one walk, but struck out two looking and forced a flyball to left field to seal the win.

One of those strikeouts was to East Juniata senior Lauren Maguire, who already had a single and RBI triple under her belt.

“Lauren’s a great hitter for EJ, and I was a little bit worried there in the last inning, I won’t lie. But we came back and played well,” Sheaffer said.

Over the course of the game, Irvin struck out 11 Tigers – an impressive feat for the freshman – but East Juniata also had some nice hits outside those strikeouts.

Most notable of the hits, of course, was Maguire’s deep fly ball to center field for her RBI triple. If there had been a fence at the field, Maguire likely would have been trotting around the bases on that hit. But Heintzelman also had a strong outing at the plate, going 2-for-4 to collect two of East Juniata’s three RBIs.

“As far as the three games that we’ve had this year, this was definitely the best outing we had despite the errors we had,” East Juniata coach Joe Schilling said.

And Schilling was right – the Tigers had some beautiful plays, including Maddison Plesce’s catch in deep center field to prevent an extra base hit for Mady Marrone, but the Tigers also had some errors which gave the Indians key extra at bats.

Pitching-wise, East Juniata had both Erhard and Heintzelman in the circle, as the two would alternate back and forth between third base and the mound each inning. Despite the need for constant adjustment between the two pitchers’ styles, Juniata notched 10 hits, but Sheaffer said it wasn’t without some effort.

One of these hits came from Swab in the bottom of the second when she hit an RBI single to left field to bring home Irvin. This put the score at 2-2 as Juniata had already collected one in the first and East Juniata had two. East Juniata then temporarily took the lead in the top of the fifth on RBIs from Maguire and Heintzelman to make the score 4-2 before Juniata came through with its three-run sixth.

Despite the loss, Schilling was pleased with what he saw from his girls, and he said that although the frustration of three straight losses may be getting to some of the girls, it should be a motivation for improvement.

“I think it’s going to put pressure on them to make them better. It’s still early in the season, and I’d rather the pressure be now three games in rather than seven games in when it’s nearly wasted,” he said.

East Juniata (0-3, 0-3) travels to Halifax on Monday. Juniata (2-1, 2-1) hosts a doubleheader with Huntingdon today.