PHOTO: Maranda Runco threw a shutout for Mid Valley in the state semifinals.
By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
DUNMORE – Like many recent opponents, Central Columbia chose not to let Maranda Runco swing the bat.
When it came to facing Runco’s pitches, however, the Blue Jays had no such options.
The Mid Valley sophomore tossed a four-hit shutout, walking just one batter and allowing just one to reach third base Monday afternoon when the Spartanettes slipped past the Blue Jays, 1-0, in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 3A state softball semifinal.
“She’s just a dominant pitcher,” Mid Valley coach Mike Piercy said after Runco’s shutout combined with Zoe Zelinski’s game-winning hit to send the Spartanettes into Friday afternoon’s championship game at Penn State.
From the start, with Runco as her team’s leadoff batter, Central Columbia did not even bother to pitch around her. Coach Roger Mowrey simply motioned to the home plate umpire to send Runco to first base with an intentional walk in each of her three plate appearances.
The move generally worked as intended.
Mid Valley did not score in the first two innings that Runco was sent to first base and the only run the Spartanettes scored in the game was already in before she came to the plate in the fifth inning.
Runco made sure that lone run stood up, finishing strong, retiring the last nine batters after Emma Yoder’s leadoff single in the fifth.
Runco got Yoder the next time, with her seventh strikeout, ending the game.
“I was just so excited when I struck that last girl out,” Runco said. “I had to do the hardest pitch I’ve every done and I did it.”
Central Columbia (20-6) countered with its own dominant pitcher Mea Consentino, who had not allowed a run while the Blue Jays were getting through the first two rounds of the state tournament with 3-0 and 2-0 victories.
“I told the kids before the game, ‘somebody’s going to step up and be a hero today’,” Piercy said. “We knew it was going to be a 1-0, 2-1 game. That’s a really quality pitcher and really quality team.
“We had someone step up. Our number-seven hitter Zoe Zelinski got that key hit when we needed it.”
Mid Valley also had just four hits off Consentino, but with the three intentional walks to Runco, two unintentional walks and two errors, it had plenty more chances.
The Spartanettes also had more chances wiped out on the bases.
Central Columbia used double plays to erases leadoff runners in each of the first two innings and threw out two runners after falling behind.
Kaylee Terranella, coming off the seventh-inning, game-winning hit in the quarterfinals, led off the bottom of the fifth with a single and scored the game’s only run.
Terranella stole second and quickly went to third when the throw was mishandled and second base and got just far enough away for her to advance.
“I took a risk,” Terranella said. “I didn’t know how far the ball was past second, but I knew that I was fast enough and I could get there.
“ … They’re a very good enough and we know that we’re not always going to get a lot of hits off a good pitcher, but we know that stolen bases will get us there.”
Terranella ran into position to score when Zelinski followed with a hard single up through the middle.
“I knew she was coming outside,” Zelinski said. “That’s where she had pitched me the last at-bat.
“I was sort of expecting it and I took it where it needed to go.”
Courtney Rebar walked and Mid Valley appeared to be poised for a big inning on Emma Kobylanski’s single to center field.
When center fielder Emmie Rowe gunned down Zelinski trying to score from second, it changed the situation.
Mid Valley would have had bases loaded with none out and Runco coming to the plate, forcing Central Columbia to either pitch to the slugger with 19 home runs or give up the game’s second run on another walk and keep the bases loaded with none out.
Instead, Central Columbia walked Runco and Consentino responded with a strikeout and a grounder back to the mound to escape trouble.
Piercy was happy his decision from the third base coach’s box to send Zelinski home did not become a bigger factor in the game.
“Not getting those runners in during the first few innings was huge,” Piercy said. “I apologized to my team (after the fifth) and said, ‘now, I need you guys to pick me up’.
“On the call I made sending the girl home; they picked me up with their play defensively. I owe the girls one.”
Mid Valley (20-2) advances to face another team that has not been scored on so far in the state tournament, District 7 champion Mount Lebanon (20-3). They play at 1:30 Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field, Nittany Lion Softball Park.
The Spartanettes, in their 13th trip to the state tournament, are making their first appearance in the final. They now have a winning state playoff record at 13-12 and broke through after having their season end in the state semifinals in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2017.