SOMERSET — It wasn’t a clean performance, but Meyersdale made the plays when it counted Tuesday in the first round of the PIAA Class A state softball playoffs.
The Lady Red Raiders defeated Elk County Catholic. 3-1, at Somerset to advance to the state quarterfinals on Thursday. They face District 6 champ Glendale, which defeated Muncy 5-0 on Monday in the first round.
“It wasn’t the prettiest victory we have ever had,” Meyersdale head coach Jessica Deakins said. “We got locked up at different points. We have to stay within ourselves and play relaxed. I don’t know if teams could squander runs or strand as many runs as we did.
“We did some crazy things running the bases, and we left people on the bag that we should have been able to bring in. We are used to doing that and it brings comfort because we have padding, so when we see base runners defensively, we stay relaxed.”
The Lady Crusaders, the District 9 No. 3-seed, stranded a pair of base runners in the first inning. After a strikeout to start the game, Brandi Clyde and Emily Evers hit back-to-back singles off starter Layne Deakins. The senior pitcher then got a fly out and a strikeout to end the threat.
Meyersdale (23-1), the D-5 champ, got a run in the bottom of the first. Jordan Cerreta singled on the first pitch she saw and moved up on a Jackie McKenzie sacrifice bunt. Isabella Miller singled to center, where the ball was bobbled, which allowed Cerreta to race home for the 1-0 lead.
Miller was left stranded after Elk County Catholic sophomore pitcher Michelle Gerber got a strikeout and a fly out to end the inning.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the second.
The Lady Crusaders tied the game in the third. Deakins struck out Brianna Weisner to lead off the inning. Back-to-back errors by the Lady Red Raiders allowed runners to get into scoring position. Evers (3-for-4) singled up the middle and Jenna Weisner scored the unearned run to tie it at 1-1. A pair of infield pop ups halted the Lady Crusaders threat.
The Lady Red Raiders got what proved to be the final two runs of the game in the fourth. Shawna Leonard singled to lead off the inning. Olivia Kretchman followed with a double. After a strikeout, Emily Schafer smacked a single to center that chased home both Leonard and Kretchman.
“Emily, if she is looking for that pitch down the middle, has hit the ball as good as anyone on the team this season,” coach Deakins said. “She has that little compact body that has a lot of power. We knew if she could stay back and wait — we have a hard time waiting — if she sat back, she could drive it.”
As Meyersdale has done throughout the playoffs to keep opponents off balance, Deakins was lifted in the top of fifth inning and Leonard came it to pitch. Leonard gave up a leadoff single to Brianna Weisner but struck out two and got a pop up to get out of the inning quickly.
The Lady Red Raiders seemed poised to put at least one more run on the board late in the game.
In the fifth, Cerreta (3-for-3) singled for the third time to lead off an inning. McKenzie followed with a walk. Both ladies moved up on a pass ball. Miller then hit into a fielder’s choice at third. Evers faked a throw to first and went home when she saw the speedy Cerreta break for the plate.
Catcher Rosina Nero blocked the line and tossed the ball back to shortstop Josie Smith who was covering third. Smith threw it to Gerber, who was covering home, and she tagged a diving Cerreta before she touched the plate. The next two Meyersdale batters couldn’t bring anyone home.
In the sixth, Katie Kretchman doubled to deep center but was caught sliding into third on a perfect 8-4-5 relay. Schafer followed with a double to nearly the exact same spot as Kretchman, but the relay throw was bobbled and Schafer was safe at third. The base runner was again left stranded, as the next two batters hit fly outs.
Elk County Catholic tried to rally in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Clyde and Evers hit back-to-back singles. But, Leonard struck out the final batter of the game to send the Lady Red Raiders to the quarterfinals.
Deakins and Leonard combined for 10 strikeouts, two walks and five hits. Gerber went the distance for the Lady Crusaders. She struck out two, walked one and scattered nine hits.
“Runs were at a premium. We had our chances in three or four innings with runners on, but we were only able to get one run across,” Elk County Catholic head coach Digger O’Dell said. “You don’t win a whole lot of ball games like that.
“But, I’m very proud of this team. We were 7-14 last year with this same exact team. We turned it around to win 15 games and make the state tournament this season. We just fell a little short today.”
The Lady Crusaders finished the season with a 15-9 record and lose a pair of seniors — Ever and Jordyn Fox — to graduation.
“Emily is great kid. She works hard and practiced all by herself at times,” O’Dell said. “Jordyn was a joy to have on the team the past few years. We wish them the best of luck in the future. But, the good thing is we only lose one starter.
”This is still technically a young team. We started four sophomores and four juniors so the program looks good for the next couple of years. Hopefully, we will come back and make some noise next year.”