Slow start opens door for State College

REEDSVILLE – Mifflin County and State College put on quite an offensive showcase Friday evening in the teams’ 11- and 12-year old District 5 second-round softball matchup.

Unfortunately for the locals, State College managed to push across a few more runs and withstand a late Mifflin County comeback in its 11-9 victory at Steve Snyder Field in Reedsville.

Mifflin County, playing as the visiting team, staggered through the first few innings – a contrast to the beginning of its District 5 opener Wednesday against Penns Valley. State College pushed two across home plate in the first with two outs when Lily Sullivan, State College’s starting pitcher and cleanup hitter, ripped an RBI triple and Emma Wolf singled her home.

Mifflin County responded in the second with a run of its own courtesy of a Tori Nichols RBI single, but the bottom of the inning would spell disaster for the purple and white. McKenzie Shannon, Maggie Morgan and Sara Conklin all reached base to get things started for State College. Shannon was gunned down at home on an impressive throw from shortstop Skylar Ciccolini to catcher Nicols, but Mifflin County starter Leesha Shilling walked Caitlyn Bramon to force in a run. Sullivan then helped her own cause with a two-run single. Wolf plated a couple more with her second base knock of the evening to increase the lead to 7-1 before Shilling was able to get out of trouble by fanning pinch hitter Spencer Carson.

“They just hit the ball in the gaps a lot more than we did,” Mifflin County manager Sonny Ciccolini said. “A lot of their balls managed to get through.”

The teams kept putting runs on the board in the middle innings, with State College tallying three and Mifflin County plating two. Mifflin County scored two in the third, but the inning could have been much bigger. With the bases loaded and only one out, Mifflin County brought two runners across and had its hopes set on more. However, sure-handed State College shortstop Shannon fielded Shilling’s grounder and cut down the lead runner, Hannah Crossley, before she could cross home plate. Nichols then hit into some untimely bad luck, ripping a line drive right into the glove of third-baseman Bramon. The play robbed Mifflin County of at least a couple runs it could have used down the stretch.

“We hit the ball well,” Ciccolini said. “We just have to make sure to keep hitting the ball well and some of those will start falling into gaps for us, too.”

The State College offense wouldn’t let up and it seemed like a comfortable victory was on the way as the Centre County squad increase its lead to 10-3 in the bottom of the fourth.

Then came the explosive fifth inning.

Skylar Ciccolini struck out to start the frame, but Crossley singled, stole second, and scored on a Whitney Kenepp base hit. Destiny Graham then reached base, bringing up pinch-hitter Madison Tate, who delivered a run-scoring base knock. Nichols hit into a 6-5 force, but Bailey Zendt got the momentum right back for Mifflin County as she sent a deep fly ball over the left fielder’s head, scoring two. Christina Hagens and Keri Kahley then came through in the clutch with back-to-back RBI singles, cutting the lead to 10-9 before the inning finally ended.

But that was as close as Mifflin County could get. State College scored an insurance run in the bottom half of the fifth, but Sullivan didn’t even need it. The right-hander regained her composure in the sixth and tossed a drama-free 1-2-3 inning to end the game.

“The girls have to be proud of themselves,” Sonny Ciccolini said. “They came back from a pretty big deficit and made it a game that went down to the wire.”

Destiny Graham relieved Shilling after two innings and was solid in her three innings of work. She ceded four runs to State College, but many of the hits she surrendered were not struck hard at all; the placing was just too much for the Mifflin County fielders to overcome.

“We switched pitchers to change the speeds and the delivery up because they both have a different look to them,” Ciccolini said of Shilling and Graham. “It seemed to work okay, it kinda kept them (State College) off-balance for a few innings and I think that gave our offense a chance to put some runs on the board and make it a little closer of a game.”

Mifflin County travels to Bald Eagle Monday for a consolation game.