Walk-off Wildcats

MILLERSTOWN – After giving up a tough loss to Millersburg to open the season, the returning District 3 Class A Greenwood softball team was not about to take another loss Wednesday when the Wildcats hosted Tri-Valley League opponent Juniata.

The teams traded punches back and fourth through seven innings as Juniata took an early lead, gave it up in the second then slowly fought back to tie it at 6-6 to finish the top of the seventh. But despite the Indians’ comeback effort, senior shortstop Brittany Fleisher made sure she and the rest of the Wildcats didn’t need to face any more of the blistering cold due to extra innings.

With teammates Miranda Gutshall and Rachel Stroup on base and two outs, Fleisher patiently worked the count to 2-0 before getting her pitch for a hard line drive into left field, effectively plating Gutshall for the win.

“I thought she looked very confident at the plate today. She’s the girl that we want up in that situation,” Greenwood coach Troy Gantt said of Fleisher. “That’s what you want your seniors to do – come through in the clutch situations.”

But although Fleisher had the honor of bringing home the win with her walk-off single – she also had a three RBI triple in the second – it was really a whole-team effort which put the Wildcats’ record at 1-1.

After a shaky first inning which gave Juniata the lead with two unearned runs, the Wildcats batted all the way through their lineup in the second, putting five different girls across in the process, to take the 5-2 lead.

Amy Heggenstaller also crossed the plate in the bottom of the fourth off a Brooke Louden linedrive to center field to give Greenwood six of its seven total runs, but Juniata had not been silent in the scoring department either.

Juniata pitcher Brinley Irwin helped her own cause in the top of the inning when she hit a lead off a triple to left field. During the next at bat, Irwin stole home on a wild pitch to make the score 5-3. The Indians then had their chance to knot it up in the third when Summer Swab and Hali Weiand found themselves at third and second with one out, but they were stranded when Greenwood pitcher Chelsea Hicks struck out two Indians looking to end the Juniata threat.

“I thought she did a good job keeping them off balance. We gave up a few unearned runs early, but I thought she did a real nice job,” Gantt said of Hicks, who had eight total strikeouts in her first start of the season.

In the top of the sixth Juniata’s Hayley Colyer hit a two-run double to make the score 6-5 and she was followed in the sixth by an Irwin one-run single to knot it up at 6-6, but that was the end of the Indian’s scoring for the evening.

“We had some mistakes early there, but I was proud of the girls. We didn’t give up, we came back and tied it up in the last inning and it shows a lot of heart,” Juniata coach Brian Sheaffer said.

Sheaffer was also complimentary of Irwin, who fought back after a tough second inning to keep the Indians in the game.

“It’s a good learning experience for her. It’s only her second varsity start. She got behind in some of the counts, but she fought back really well, came back and got the girls to make an out,” he said.

Back in the TVL after a brief stint in the Mountain League, Juniata upset defending league champion Upper Dauphin in its first game of the season, and Sheaffer is excited to see how his girls will fight back after Wednesday’s loss.

“I’m happy with the way it’s gone so far. We need to work some things out, but they keep their heads up and they keep fighting all the time,” he said.

The Indians (1-1, 1-1) will get their first chance for a rebound Friday, when they host cross-county rival East Juniata.

On the Wildcats’ end, Gantt was pleased with the way his girls recovered after their opening loss.

“That first game (against Millersburg) we looked a little nervous and we had some girls in positions they hadn’t played before, but I thought the girls came out and did a nice job today,” Gantt said.

The Wildcats (1-1, 1-1) will travel to Upper Dauphin Friday.