NEPA Sports Nation

Abington Heights holds off Oxford

By Tom Robinson,

ALLENTOWN – Abington Heights had already scored four sixth-inning runs when Lauren Stalica’s double cleared the bases for three more.

The Comets were in front but facing a threat and then in a tie for one of the few times in the game when their infield came up with inning-ending double plays.

Stalica was still cruising through the game in the circle when two steps were taken to be ready just in case Grace Lorah was needed in relief.

On a night when Abington Heights was ahead for all but the time in took to move through two batters to start the game and four batters later on, the additional runs, the extra outs and Lorah’s calm once she was called upon all conspired to send the Comets into the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 5A softball semifinals.

Lorah came on to retire the only two batters she faced – with the tying runs in scoring position – Thursday night as Abington Heights held off Oxford, 9-7, in the state quarterfinal at Patriots Park.

“We put in all the work in the offseason, then we continued to work in season,” Stalica said after the District 2 champions won their 14th straight since a 6-6 start. “Now, it’s paying off in the postseason.”

Stalica had three hits, Lindsay Tasker got the offense started from her leadoff spot and Riley Knott hit a tape-measure, go-ahead home run.

Oxford got a pair of two-run homers from Ashley Flynn, the second of which ignited a five-run bottom of the seventh and delayed the Abington Heights celebration.

Lorah restored order by keeping the ball in infield for the final two outs on a popup and a groundball, yielding only a wild pitch that moved the runners up after she entered the game with them on first and second.

“The inning before I asked if I should go warm up just in case,” Lorah said.

Coach John Kelly agreed, then inserted Lorah in the lineup in the top of the seventh, pinch hitting her for first baseman Lauryn Notari and putting her in on defense in the position that Stalica would assume if she left the circle.

“I just kind of followed along in the thought process,” said Lorah, who watched as seven straight Oxford batters reached with one out and five of them scored to change what had been a 9-2 game. “Just got to shut them down, let them hit it and my team will take care of the rest.”

Lorah had also saved the game when Abington Heights handed Lackawanna League Division 1 and District 2 Class 4A champion Valley View its only loss of the regular season. That game and a district final victory over defending state champion Pittston Area had put the Comets on the path that they continued with Thursday’s victory.

“We just decided that Grace gave us the best shot at that time,” Kelly said. “They were really sitting on Lauren’s pitches and I thought maybe the change of speed would help. Grace’s pitches really move a lot.

“I give her a lot of credit. For her to be able to come into that situation and do what she did, that was huge.”

Kelly praised the senior for being ready when the team needed her most.

“We talked early in the season,” Kelly said. “When we were struggling, Grace pitched a few good games for us. I told her, ‘your season is not over. Stay in it. There’s going to be a time when we need you’.

“There’s no bigger spot than today and she stepped up and did a great job. You talk about nerves of steel. That was a big situation.”

Abington Heights broke on top in two batters to begin the game.

Tasker, who had two hits and scored twice, singled and stole second.

Marley Sarafinko sent a hit down the right-field line, scoring Tasker. When Sarafinko’s ball took an odd bounce, spinning away from the outfielder and into foul territory, it allowed her to keep going for a triple.

One out later, Bryn Stiles brought Sarafinko in with the first of her two runs on a groundout.

The 2-0 lead held until the bottom of the fifth with Abington Heights getting just one runner into scoring position in the next four innings.

Oxford put together two hits each in the second, third and fifth innings and one in the fourth and sixth.

“I honestly felt like I was battling the whole time, but trusting my defense and continuing to compete against the batters is big,” Stalica said. “It’s helpful for me when I’m not having my best game on the mound to just pick up my team at the plate and score runs.”

The defense came through when Tasker, the second baseman, fielded a groundball with runners on first and second and one out in the fourth. She alertly tagged the runner passing in front of her, then threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play.

Oxford tied the game on an error and Flynn’s first home run in the fifth inning, then put the next runner on base.

Stalica snagged a line drive and threw to first for the double play.

Abington Heights quickly regained the lead, then appeared to be building a comfortable margin with a seven-run sixth inning.

Stalica singled and her courtesy runner, Cecelia O’Malley, scored when Knott hit the ball nearly 300 feet, easily clearing the 250-foot fence in left field to break the tie and put the Comets ahead to stay.

“I knew the game was tied, so I knew we needed to get up, get energy, get something going,” Knott said. “Being one of the batters up, I just to execute the best I could.”

She did.

“It was a solid inside pitch,” Knott said. “That’s usually my strength. A pitch to hit. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was a good hit.”

The Comets were fortunate not to stop there.

Renee McDonald and Ava Stafursky singled pinch runner Avery Venesky to third.

Everyone was safe when Oxford unsuccessfully tried to get Venesky out at home on Notari’s sacrifice bunt.

Tasker singled in another run, then Sarafinko walked to load the bases.

Stalica’s double down the left-field line tacked on the final three runs and what proved to be the game-winners.

Oxford started its rally with a one-out walk and Flynn’s home run, then five more batters reached, including four on solid hits.

Lorah was there, ready to stop the rally and send the Comets into the state semifinals.

Abington Heights will meet Northern York Tuesday at 6 p.m., back at Patriots Park, in a game that was postponed by rain Monday.


First-round forfeit: Comets receive softball forfeit – NEPA Sports Nation.

District 2 championship game story vs. Pittston Area: Tasker helps Abington Heights dump defending state champions – NEPA Sports Nation.

Player of the week honors for Stalica: Stalica stopped defending champs – NEPA Sports Nation.

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