UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State is affectionately known as Happy Valley, but unfortunately for the DuBois softball program PSU’s Beard Field has become more like Death Valley than the moniker the university is famous for.
That’s because for the third time in as many trips since Beard Field opened in 2011, the Lady Beavers fell in a District 6-9 championship game.
Central Mountain was the latest D-6 foe to end DuBois’ season, as the Lady Wildcats used a big four-run bottom of the first Wednesday to seize control on its way to a 6-1 victory to capture the District 6-9 5A title.
DuBois’ previously played at Beard Field in the park’s inaugural season in 2011 and again in 2015 — with both trips resulting in heartbreaking one-run losses in the District 6-9 4A title game.
State College bested the Lady Beavers, 3-2, back in 2011 with all fie runs scoring in the first one and half innings. Two years ago, DuBois took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh against Mifflin County, only to see the Lady Huskies tie things up before winning in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the eighth.
On Wednesday, Central Mountain (13-7) did most of its damage in the first inning, as the Lady Wildcats’ four-run, five-hit outburst — all with two outs — proved to be the difference.
DuBois starter Molly Nosker settled in after that, allowing just two hits the rest way, while her defense played flawlessly behind to help keep the Lady Beavers within striking distance. Nosker struck out three and walked just one.
Junior shortstop Danessa Allison in particular enjoyed a strong game in the field, recording five assists and three putouts.
However, the Lady Beavers (11-11) were never able to overcome Central Mountain’s big start, as Lady Wildcat junior Caitlyn Brush limited DuBois to one earned runs on four hits. She struck out five and walked two.
DuBois had a chance to answer Central Mountain’s hot start, as it loaded the bases with one out in the second. But, the Lady Beavers could only push one run across and had just two runners reach second the rest of the game.
“The first inning killed us,” said DuBois coach Rick McClelland. “Kudos to them (Lady Wildcats). They came out ready to go, hitting the ball, and made something happen. We got down early, and kept trying, but it just wasn’t our day.
“Molly did a great job keeping us in it after that first inning, and the defense played well behind her. We just didn’t have those timely hits when we needed them.
“We had a couple opportunities to score runs, and we didn’t make it happen. If you can chip away here and there, and add a couple here or there, you’re right back in the game. We didn’t do that today and didn’t generate much offense after the third inning.”
After Brush retired the side in order to start the game, Nosker got two quick outs in the bottom half of the first. However, a double to deep right-center by Brush jump-started a Lady Wildcats rally.
Skylar Smith followed with a single to left to score courtesy runner Averie Pringle and hustled into second on a throw to the plate. Morgan Wetzel then hit an infield into the hole at short that Allison couldn’t quite get. That ball deflected off Allison’s glove in shallow left field, allowing Smith to score.
Back-to-back doubles by Autumn Dershem and Jennifer Skowp produced two more runs and a 4-0 Lady Wildcat lead before Nosker struck out Madison Knepp to end the inning.
DuBois countered by loading the bases with one out in the top of the second on singles by Maddie Smith and Kacie Means and an Autumn Shaffer walk. Allison scored Smith on a fielder’s choice that left runners on the corners.
That’s all DuBois got though, as Brush struck out Marissa Torretti to end the inning.
Central Mountain added a run in the bottom of the second on a one-out RBI double to left by Josie Dershem. Nosker silenced the Lady Wildcat bats from there for the most part, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters she faced.
The lone blemish in that run was a leadoff homer in the sixth by Wetzel that set the eventual final at 6-1. DuBois beat Central Mountain by that same score back on April 29 at the Lady Wildcats annual tournament. Wetzel was the lone player on either team to have two hits and two RBIs.
Nosker’s strong finish gave her offense a chance to fight back into the game, but the Lady Beavers found the going tough as Brush.
Lady Beavers Laura Faula and Rachel Gildersleeve did hit back-to-back singles with two outs in the third. But, Brush struck out Smith to end the threat.
DuBois managed just two base runners over the final four innings. Kylee Bundy drew a two-out walk in the fifth, while Allison reached on a one-out error in the seventh. Allison advanced to second on a wid pitch but was stranded there when the game ended.
The game was the final one for a quintet of Lady Beaver seniors — Fatula, Gildersleeve, Shaffer, Torretti and Katie Zameroski.
“They (girls) did a great job to put us in this position (in title game) today,” said McClelland. “That senior class, you know what you’re getting with them. It was 100 percent effort all the time.”