By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
BLOOMSBURG – What Mid Valley did immediately following the most dangerous situation and most aggravating moments of Tuesday’s game provides the clearest explanation for why the Spartanettes are back playing for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 3A softball state championship game.
Mid Valley scored seven times in the bottom the second, after escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the inning, on the way to an 8-1 victory over Palisades in a semifinal game at Bloomsburg University.
The Spartanettes scored three times with just one hit before back-to-back, two-run singles by Madison Kizer and Courtney Rebar. Six of the eight runs came later in innings when Palisades issued two of its three intentional walks to Maranda Runco.
The final five innings became little more than a formality setting up Friday’s 1:30 state final at Penn State University between District 2 champion Mid Valley (22-2) and District 6 champion Juniata (25-3). It is the second trip in three years for the Spartanettes, who lost to District 7 champion Mount Pleasant, 5-3, in the 2021 championship game with many of the same players.
“First year, sophomore year, we did get a little down when we got down,” said Runco, the all-state pitcher and the team’s leading hitter. “This year we’ve had games where we were down, but we got up, we were loud and we scored back.”
The Spartanettes came from behind in the quarterfinal.
They never trailed in Tuesday’s game, but they did all their damage after being in danger of falling behind.
Runco faced down the bases-loaded situation in the top of the second, getting a strikeout and a comebacker to the circle.
It was similar situation to Thursday’s quarterfinal when Mid Valley was already trailing, 2-1, when Forest Hills loaded the bases in the top of the sixth.
Runco struck out the last two batters then and, three batters later, Mid Valley had a 4-2 lead on Courtney Rebar’s two-run homer.
“Very similar to the Forest Hills game,” Mid Valley coach Mike Piercy said. “We were pretty hyped, coming out of that jam and, no surprise, we came in and had some good at-bats.
“I’m proud of these kids. They battle. They leave it all out there on the field every game and they deserve to be there on Friday.”
Karlye Teman got the first out in the bottom of the second. Nine of the next 10 batters reached base with the only exception being Kat Davis, who drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
The rally started with a Krista Cortazar walk.
Audrey Hasenzahl reached on an infield single.
Consecutive walks to Mackenzie Adolfson and Jordan Carroll put Mid Valley in front and brought Runco to the plate with the bases loaded.
Palisades coaches chose to intentionally walk Runco, pushing in the second run and leaving the bases loaded, rather than to risk her doing more damage.
Runco’s teammates took care of that.
“I got into the box,” Runco said. “I was like, ‘I’m ready’. Then, they were talking about it and I thought, ‘oh, my gosh, I’m, not going to get an at-bat’.
“For me, it shows that everyone on this team can do something, not just one person.”
The fear of Runco created a head start, driving in what was technically the winning run, and her teammates provided five more runs.
“We’ll always take a free run if they want to give it to us,” Piercy said, “no matter who’s up.”
Davis made it 3-0 with her sacrifice fly.
Chiara Zavislak reached on an error, reloading the bases.
Kizer and Rebar completed the scoring in the inning.
Cortazar’s single put runners on the corners before Palisades got out of the inning.
Mid Valley stretched the lead to 8-0 and nearly ended the game on the 10-run rule in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Cortazar led off with a walk and scored on a two-out, bases-loaded, infield single by Davis.
Zavislak sent a deep flyball that left fielder Rhiley Poniktera ran down with an overhead catch in the gap to extend the game.
Palisades was hitless for 4 2/3 and scoreless for 5 1/3 as Runco fired a four-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
Erin Wallbillich led off the Palisades sixth with a single and scored on a one-out, double to deep center field by Brooklynn Lucas.
With runners on second and third, Runco got a strikeout and a groundout.
Palisades threatened one more time in the seventh, loading the bases on two errors and an infield single. One more deep line drive, by Ashley Amato, threatened to cut into the deficit by two or three runs.
Before that could happen, however, Hasenzahl ran down the flyball in deep left-center.
“Right off the bat, I thought it had me beat,” the left fielder said. “I was just like, ‘I don’t want to keep playing. I just want to end it here now’.
“We deserve it. We got all those runs up early in the game, so I just tried to get to it as fast as I could.
“ … It landed in my glove. I was just so happy because we deserve this.”
Piercy was happy to have the return to Penn State officially locked down.
“I wish we got the 10-run rule early because you don’t want to let a team hang around,” he said. “If Audrey didn’t get that ball, we would have gotten a little tighter for sure.
“It was a great job by her.”
Rebar had two hits, Cortazar scored twice and Davis joined Kizer and Rebar with two RBIs each.