JENKINS TOWNSHIP — The St. Marys Minor League All-Star softball team saw its magical summer come to an end in historic fashion Saturday afternoon as it bested New Jersey, 7-2, to become the first Little League softball squad in any age division from District 10 to ever capture an East Region title.
And, St. Marys did it in comeback fashion — scoring seven unanswered runs after falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first in the second meeting in three days between the two state champions.
St. Marys pulled even with a two-run bottom of the second before taking the lead for good with a three-run third. The Pennsylvania champs then tacked on two insurance runs in the fifth for good measure.
St. Marys only outhit New jersey 8-7 in the game, but St. Marys starter Avery Eckels and her defense did a good job limiting the damage New Jersey was able to do with the bats.
Eckels stranded 10 New Jersey runners in a complete-game effort. She allowed the two runs, one earned, on seven hits while striking out 10 and walking just one.
Kaylen Eozzo, who missed the middle portion of St. Marys’ run due to an injury, led the offensive attack. She went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Bailey Thorwart was the only other St. Marys player with two hits, while Molly Hanslovan recorded the only other RBI.
The historic victory capped off an impressive summer that saw the St. Marys Minors rack up a 16-2 record. Their only two losses came to Punxsutawney (3-2 in District 10 title game) and Delaware Valley (2-1 in second game at states).
St. Marys bounced back from the Punxsy loss by beating Punxsy, 6-3, in the District 10 if-necessary championship game. The Punxsy loss also happened to be the game Eozzo was injured in.
At states, St. Marys ripped off five straight wins following the loss to Delaware Valley to capture the state title. That run included a 6-1 win against Delaware Valley.
St. Marys carried that winning streak into regional play, where they went a perfect 4-0 to end their summer on a nine-game winning streak. There is no World Series held for the Minor League level in Little League All-Stars.
While St. Marys’ run ended in story-book fashion, things didn’t start out that Saturday afternoon for the Pennsylvania state champs.
New Jersey’s Eliah O’Neil led off the game with a single and quickly stole second before taking third when Jessica Shoenfeldt reached on an error.
Gabby Sabol then popped up a pitch in foul territory that nearly turned disasterous for St. Marys when Eckels and catcher Calleigh Buzard collided going after it. Eckels was able to make the catch and hold on to the ball after the collision.
Hayley Bustos followed with a single to score both runners to put to make it 2-0, but that proved to be all the runs New Jersey could must as Eckels settled in from there.
Eckels promptly recorded two strikeouts after Bustos’ hit end the inning, then scattered five hits hits over the final five innings. She stranded a runner at third in the second, two runners in scoring position in the fourth and left the bases loaded to end the game as she fittingly got a strikeout to end the game.
That “K” was her 10th of the day, giving the righty yet another double-digit strikeout performance during St. Marys’ All-Star run.
While Eckels and her defense held New Jersey in check over the final five innings, the St. Marys offense went to work to bring home the title.
After a quiet bottom of the first, St. Marys pulled even in the second as it capitalized on a pair of New Jersey errors.
Eozzo led off the inning and reached on an error, while Eckels followed with a single. Both runners then scored on a throwing error by New Jersey’s catcher to knot things at 2-2.
St. Marys then grabbed the lead for good in the third.
Alison Mertz and Thorwart hit back-to-back single to open the inning. Buzard followed with a bunt single, and a late, errant throw to first allowed Mertz to score and Thorwart to reach third.
Hanslovan followed with a groundout that plated Buzard before Eozzo capped the inning with a single that scored Buzard to make it 5-2.
Eozzo later set the final score with a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth. Buzard (fielder’s choice) and Hanlsovan (single) both scored on that one-out hit.