ANNVILLE — Mifflinburg’s softball team opened its PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal against West Perry on Thursday exactly the way Wildcats’ coach Ron Hernandez wanted his players to.
But, as the saying goes, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Mifflinburg scored twice in the first inning to get an early jump on West Perry, but the Wildcats fell short in their quest to advance further along in the PIAA playoffs when the Mustangs scored five unanswered runs to take a 5-2 victory at Lebanon Valley College Softball Park.
District 4 champion Mifflinburg sees its season end with an 18-5 mark, while District 3’s West Perry survives to play District 2 runner-up Honesdale in Monday’s semifinals.
“We started strong and we started fast just like we wanted to, but we just couldn’t walk all the way through that door that we opened up,” said Hernandez, whose team stranded a total of 10 runners on base.
“That’s kind of been our MO for the past three games — we just can’t get those clutch runs in when we need them. It just wasn’t our day — the balls didn’t fall the way we wanted them to — but it was a good game.”
Like Hernandez said, the Wildcats started off the game strong — both offensively and defensively.
Mifflinburg put four of its first five batters on base in the first inning, but only got two runs to show for it.
After Delaney Good led off with a single and Brook Karchner followed with a walk, Vanessa Martin was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Moments later Good and Karchner both scampered home on a wild pitch as well as an error on the play to give the District 4 champs a 2-0 lead.
The Wildcats looked to add onto their lead in the second and third innings, but once again the key hits weren’t there. The team got a total of seven hits, but ended up stranding six on base against West Perry starter Cori Ritter.
“I think the girls were on (Ritter), but (the hits) just weren’t falling for them. They weren’t getting the meat of the bat on the ball the way they wanted to,” said Hernandez. “That’s why we play the game — things happen like that. West Perry is a good team and they got a good pitcher, there’s no doubt about that.
“We found (Ritter’s) weak spots early, but we just couldn’t find them when it counted,” added Mifflinburg’s coach.
Three 1-2-3 innings from Martin to start the game helped Mifflinburg cling to that 2-0 lead, but in the fourth West Perry finally cracked Martin’s and the Wildcats’ defenses.
A leadoff single by Tiara Johnson and then a walk by Lindsay McCurdy began the fourth, but after Martin got Ritter out on a grounder in the next at-bat it seemed like Mifflinburg would find a way to get out of the inning.
But that just wasn’t the case as a crucial error committed by the Wildcats’ Hailey Foresman during the next at-bat allowed Johnson and McCurdy to come home and tie the game at 2. It was the first of two errors on the day by Mifflinburg, which is normally pretty sound defensively.
“That is pretty uncharacteristic of our defense. We had a couple of bad plays,” said Hernandez. “Hailey, if you hit her that same ball 100 times she’ll catch it 99 times. It was just one of them fluke things.”
Then in the sixth things went from bad to worse for the Wildcats when Ritter hit a two-run home run as part of a three-run inning for the Mustangs.
“We didn’t have that many hits and stuff like that, but we got the key hits at the right time — obviously Ritter’s home run. Ritter also did a tremendous job in the circle, and that really helps,” said West Perry coach John Zeigler.
“Ritter had a great day, and that’s what we needed out of her to win this game. It all starts in the circle, and she’s the key. When Ritter has a great day, it seems like everyone else has a great day.”
After giving up those two runs in the first, and seven hits overall through the first three innings, Ritter allowed just two more hits the rest of the way while also getting a double play in the fourth.
“I don’t know what (Ritter) was throwing if she was throwing something (my girls) were having problems with, but pop-ups seem to be the problem today. We had a lot of them. Even though we out-hit them, we still had a lot of pop-ups, too,” said Hernandez.
“When you look at the scoreboard it stings when you’re winning every category but the one that counts, and that’s kind of what happened today.”
However, the most disappointing thing about the loss for Mifflinburg’s coach is having to say good-bye to his four seniors — Martin, Foresman, Vanessa Boop and Libby Whittaker — who leave as two-time District 4 champions as well as two-time PIAA qualifiers.
Boop led the Wildcats on Thursday with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, while Foresman batted 2-for-3 and had two stolen bases.
“They are a big part of this program — not just because of the success they’ve had, but because of the attitude and the offseason work and them showing the younger girls what you can do when you put your mind to it and you put in the work, and these seniors put in the work — there’s no doubt about it,” said Hernandez. “If I had a dollar for every text message I got (from the girls) to open the weight room, I wouldn’t be a coach right now.”
PIAA Class 4A Quarterfinal
at Lebanon Valley College
West Perry 5, Mifflinburg 2
Mifflinburg 200 000 0 — 2-9-2
West Perry000 203 x — 5-4-1
Vanessa Martin and Vanessa Boop. Cori Ritter and Cheyenne Shughart.
WP: Ritter. LP: Martin.
Mifflinburg hitters: Delaney Good, 2-for-3, walk, run scored; Brook Karchner, walk, run; Libby Whittaker, walk; Martin, single, 2 HBP; Vanessa Boop, 3-for-4; Abby Underhill, single; Hailey Foresman, 2-for-3, 2 stolen bases.
West Perry hitters: Tiara Johnson, 2-for-3, run scored; Lindsay McCurdy, 2 walks, 2 runs; Ritter, HR (6th, 1 on), 2 RBI; Shughart, run; Jordan Santopietro, single, RBI;