By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
UNIVERSITY PARK – Amy Haggart never saw it coming.
The Beaver coach watched Thursday as her team gave up a late three-run lead before escaping with its perfect record intact, winning the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 4A softball title with a 5-4, nine-inning victory over Tunkhannock at Penn State’s Beard Field.
“With a 4-1 lead, I never anticipated with the season we had and what we’ve gone through that we would get into the predicament we did,” Haggart said.
Payton List held Tunkhannock hitless for five innings on the way to a five-hitter that included 16 strikeouts.
List needed to get outs with the potential winning run on base in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings before her play on the base paths created the deciding run.
With one out in the top of the ninth, List was on first after drawing a leadoff walk. She advanced on a groundball that pulled Tunkhannock third baseman Sydney Huff away from the base and toward the pitcher’s circle.
“I saw no one was covering and I was not going to stop,” List said.
As List went from first to third, Tunkhannock’s throw across the infield to try to get her sailed high for an error and List continued running until she scored.
“We had a couple mistakes, I’d like to have back,” Tunkhannock coach Bob Hegedty said.
Beaver’s infield executed a throw in the opposite direction across the infield to end the game.
Ella McNeff’s leadoff hit, Paige Marabell’s sacrifice and Gabby Wood’s walk combined to again put the potential winning run on base, giving the Lady Tigers runners at first and second with one out.
Nicole Howell, who had doubled in two runs to force extra innings, hit a groundball to third baseman Kayla Cornell.
Cornell took a step back and to her right to step on third for the force play before throwing to first baseman, who stretched and scooped a low throw to complete the double play.
“We practice that play all the time,” Haggart said. “It’s the first time this season that we got the double play.”
The game ended on a close play.
The Lady Tigers lost a potential run in another.
Wood got caught between third and home on a sixth-inning grounder. She remained alive in a rundown long enough for the batter, Emily Schultz, to come around and replace her at third.
As Wood broke for home plate the last time, shortstop Bailey Nicol closed in on her, but Nicol first tagged her with an empty glove. Nicol made another reach with the ball and umpires ruled she recorded the out.
The rundown helped temporarily slow the Tunkhannock comeback.
The Lady Tigers were hitless into the sixth inning when they cut into a 3-0 deficit only to wind up behind 4-1 going to the seventh.
Marabell was hit by a pitch to start the sixth and replaced by courtesy runner Aubrey Parr.
Wood lined a single to right field for the first Tunkhannock hit and Parr drew an errant throw, allowing her to score and Wood to reach third.
“I went up there and I had a vision, as my coach would say, that we were going to start hitting her and it was going to be trouble for them,” Wood said.
The trouble for Beaver came in the bottom of the seventh when the first run Tunkhannock batters reached base.
Hannah James led off with a single and Elaina Kulsicavage followed with a walk.
McNeff, the only Lady Tiger with two hits in the game, delivered a run-scoring single and both runners moved up on the throw home.
List recovered to get two outs and keep the runners at second and third.
Howell sent a long flyball over the center fielder’s head to tie the game and put her in scoring position.
List escaped trouble with a groundball for the third out and the game proceeded into extra innings.
“For kids that young, to not quit, and to battle and keep working for runs, it was fantastic,” Hegedty said of his team, which started six sophomores and a freshman for most of a 23-3 season that included Wyoming Valley Conference Division I and District 2 Class 4A titles. “I was proud of them.”
After being hitless and striking out 11 times in 5 innings against List a junior, who is verbally committed to a Virginia Tech scholarship, the Lady Tigers came up with 5 hits and struck out just 5 more times over the final 4 innings.
“We just told them to keep battling and keep looking down,” Hegedty said. “We didn’t want to chase her high pitches.
“Just try to get good swings on the ball.”
Tunkhannock did that against List, a 6-foot-1 right-hander who combined the heat of her fastball with several well-timed change-ups.
“That’s probably my favorite pitch, for sure, coming in with a 65 miles per hour fastball, then coming in with a 40 miles per hour changeup,” List said. “I think it really helps. It is my favorite pitch.
“Unfortunately, I lost it at the beginning of the playoffs, but then I got back to it at the end.”
As they made their third trip through the batting order, the Lady Tigers adjusted.
“Our team came back from behind,” said Kaya Hannon, who reached base three times. “We’ve been doing really well with that.”
This time, however, the come back came up a little short.
“Our ultimate goal is to win it all,” Hegedty said. “And, their pitcher is only a junior. They’ve got most of their team back.
“With any luck, we could meet here and have a rematch.”