BY MARTY MYERS, Times-Shamrock Writer
Muffled sobs from Hollenbeck were occasionally drowned out by the slamming of bats into the equipment bag of catcher Gabby Baltzley as Elk Lake’s dugout thinned. A few feet to the right of his star pitcher, Lady Warriors coach Tony Blaisure slowly rubbed his hands across his brow like he was trying to wipe away the most painful memory of his career.
Elk Lake was one strike away from the state Class AA softball semifinals. But after Brandywine Heights rallied to tie with two runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Katrina Huggins poked an RBI single to center in the bottom of the 11th to win it, 4-3.
It was a stunning conclusion in a game that looked like it was going to belong to Elk Lake until a lightning strike with an out and a strike against Brandywine Heights in the seventh delayed any celebration for an hour and five minutes.
“This hurts the worst,” Blaisure said. “I’ve played a lot, I’ve been involved in many different things competitively. Today’s loss really hurt. We had all the momentum.
“We were cruising along. Brooke was cruising along before the rain came. We were right where we wanted to have them in the batting order and unfortunately we had to take a little break. There’s momentum there, and Mr. Mo means a lot.”
Elk Lake seized that momentum in the fourth when McKenzi Moon slapped an infield single and Hollenbeck worked a walk. After a discussion with Blaisure, Darling squared to bunt and with Brandywine Heights in a rotation play, Darling pushed her bunt past Bullets’ pitcher Sara Fronheiser. The ball rolled almost to the outfield grass and Moon scored easily.
“We’ve been working on bunting a lot because we know it’s difficult to make plays sometimes,” Darling said. “We try to make the other team make mistakes. We were thinking if we could get it between her and the first baseman we could get the run in.”
With two outs, Sara Kwiatkowski pounded a pitch to right-center field for a ground-rule double to make it 3-0.
“I told her to relax her hands, see the ball where it’s pitched and hit it there,” Blaisure said. “Sara has been struggling for us and it was good to see her come through today.”
Brandywine Heights pushed across a run in the fifth on Taylor Bortz’s two-out single, but Darling worked out of that jam and another in the sixth.
A bolt of lightning forced the teams off the field for 65 minutes. It proved to be to the Bullets’ advantage.
“It’s hard to stay focused throughout the whole break, wondering if you’re going to play,” Darling said. “It’s just hard to keep the whole team momentum up. We didn’t come out as well as we did when we left. They came out ready to play.”
Then came the other storm.
Hughes walked on five pitches and Amanda Hess looped a single that dropped half a step in front of left fielder Kyla Marcy.
Up stepped Jenn Seabourne, who fanned in her first three at bats, and nearly a fourth.
“I don’t know how she took the pitch,” Blaisure said of a 2-2 pitch that just missed the inside corner. “It hurt. She stood in there against one of the best pitchers in the state and did what she needed to do for her team.”
Seabourne lifted the 3-2 pitch into shallow left-center and sped into second with a game-tying, two-run double.
“I think everyone wants that chance, but at the same time, it’s kind of nerve racking,” Seabourne said.
“It was a pitch that I liked. It felt like a good hit and when I saw it go just high enough over the shortstop, I knew it was in there.”
With the international tiebreaker rule in effect in the 10th – the last hitter of the previous inning starts at second base – both teams had their chances, but Hughes made the most of hers.
She lined a 3-2 pitch up the middle to score Megan Olsen with the winning run.
“It’s one of those things that I happened to be up to bat, but if anyone else on my team was up to bat, they would have done the exact same thing,” Hughes said. “Anyone can hit at any time when they are needed to and I think that’s what makes us a success.”