Hearts of gold

UNIVERSITY PARK – Mifflin County’s softball team might want to think about changing its nickname from Huskies to Cardiac Kids if Wednesday’s District 6 Class AAAA championship game is any indication.

Despite outhitting the Wildcats, 7-3, Mifflin County trailed Central Mountain 2-0 entering the sixth inning, then managed to scurry three runs across home plate to win the school’s – and all its predecessors’ – first district title in the sport.

“This is a big win for the kids,” coach Jack McCurdy said. “As a coach I’ve been here before and done that. The kids have been pressing and they’ve had opportunities in the past to win this title and didn’t do it so it’s nice to see the kids win it on the fourth attempt with a new high school in Mifflin County. So I’m really happy for them.”

Central Mountain’s Moriah Lindsey worked Mifflin County starter Shelby Lyter for a walk on five pitches to set the tone of what would be a real nail biter for both teams and the overflow crowd. Following a strikeout and a pop fly to left field, Kayla Glossner knocked in the first run of the game with a sharp single to right-center field.

“We were hoping to get an early lead in the game,” Central Mountain coach Dave Peters said. “We wanted to be aggressive and make them have to make the plays. We wanted to have their outfielders have to make the plays. We managed to get that first run in the top of the first so we accomplished what we wanted to do. We wanted to challenge them and get an early lead and we did that.

“After we got the lead we wanted to force them to make the plays and we did thag but unfortunately we couldn’t close it out that last inning. I don’t think Mifflin County hit the ball all that hard but they were able to make the plays when they needed to. We were forced to play in to watch for the looper but you also had to be careful so the ball wouldn’t go over our heads.”

The Huskies’ Allessa Morrison lead off the bottom of the first with ground ball single to left, then Mara Rhodes’ laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch had Morrison nestled on third base. Unfortunately for Mifflin County, Wildcats’ hurler Rachael Shady got out of the slight jam, inducing a strikeout and an infield pop fly to end the inning.

Mifflin County’s Lyter retired 11 of the next 12 batters, a streak that was interrupted by a walk to Brit Koch before the Wildcats would collect their second hit if the game in the fourth inning. A trio of pop flies, including a fine running catch by Rhodes, kept the game at 1-0.

“It just seemed that throughout the game things weren’t going our way a lot of the times,” McCurdy said. “And I was one of the reasons when I held a runner at second, but that was because the third baseman was a little ahead of me and I started to bring her – but by then it was too late.

Mifflin County left the bases loaded in the fourth.

“But you know what, I use that with the kids that you make mistakes some times and sometimes you hang your head so I said, ‘Look, I made a mistake out there so I’m going to own it and move on.'” McCurdy said. “And that’s what we asked them to do.”

Meanwhile the Huskies managed a single in the second by Macie Lucas, but a double play wiped out that threat. A two-out single by Morrison in the third produced nothing, but the biggest disappointment came in the fourth inning when Jordan Myers, Lucas and Brooke Wilson all collected base hits but couldn’t chase any runners home.

Central Mountain made it a 2-0 game in the fifth when Lindsey was hit by a pitch and Koch singled sharply to left. A botched play on Emily Strouse’s ground ball and an infield error scored the run. It would be the last time the Wildcats would see a base runner as Lyter retired the last seven batters with none of the balls leaving the infield.

Down 2-0 and time running out, despite seven hits and nothing to show for the effort, the Huskies found the inner strength to push across three runs in the sixth inning.

Taylor Boyer and Lucas started the frame with base raps to right-center field; Boyer then moved to third on Wilson’s fly ball to right. A double steal that worked sent Lucas to second with Boyer breaking for home to score the Huskies’ first run. Kali Hunter walked and Maggie Wray slapped an RBI singled to left to tie the game 2-2. Kibe then lifted one of the shortest sacrifice flies one will ever see with a pop up to second base. Central Mountain second baseman Emily Strouse made the catch for the out but with her back to the infield,

Julia Stuck was able to scamper home with the eventual winning run.

Lyter then induced an infield fly to shortstop, a strikeout and an appropriate comebacker to the mound to end the game.

“It was exciting when we walked back on the field following us taking the lead, knowing we needed just three more outs for the win,” winning hurler Lyter quipped. “So it was easy getting those last three outs.

“It was encouraging in that we never gave up,” Lyter addedd of the early 2-0 deficit. “We have a very strong defense and I can always trust if we are behind. This championship is awesome, it’s the first for the school as a quad-A school, it’s just an awesome feeling especially after losing to Central Mountain last year in the districts. So this year is a very different story and things feel a lot better now.”

Added coach McCurdy of Lyter, “I could tell the first couple of innings she was nervous. And this is a big atmosphere and it’s really the first time she’s started a game of this magnitude and the setting like this but my hats off to her as she made the adjustments as the game went along. She’s tough with one or two pitches but when she has all of her pitches working, it’s lights out. She had a game with 17 strikeouts and when she’s on, she’s on and fun to watch.”

And with the comeback win, Miffling County fans will now have another opportunity to see Lyter light up strikeout total before the season ends.

The Huskies (16-5) will play the third-place team from District 3 in the opening round of state play on Monday. McCurdy saud Wednesday the game would be back at Penn State’s Beard Field Softball Complex; the time will be announced later. The opponent will not be known before today – weather forced the District 3 tournament back a day, with the semis being played Wednesday. Among the contenders are fellow Commonwealth Division team Cumberland Valley and Hempfield.