HERMITAGE — It’s often said the true character of an athlete and a team shines through in the face of adversity, and in the case of the DuBois Central Catholic softball team, it has shown it has the heart of a champion.
For the second time in three days, DCC rallied from a 3-0 deficit, with Thursday’s 9-3, come-from-behind victory over Commodore Perry keeping alive the Lady Cardinals’ march towards a state title.
Central fell behind Carmichaels, 3-0, after the top of the first inning Tuesday in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs. In that game, the Lady Cardinals responded with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the first on their way to an 18-3, 4-inning mercy-rule victory.
However, this time around the deficit seemed to be a little more daunting when a three-run homer in the bottom of the third by Brittany Shrock put DCC in another 3-0 hole.
Shrock’s blast came on the heels of her no-hitting the Lady Cardinals through three innings. But, it also could have been her undoing, as the senior righty seemed to lose some of her edge or focus in the circle after coming off the high of hitting the long homer.
Central Catholic (23-1) finally broke through against Shrock in the top of the fourth with three hits. The Lady Cardinals could only push one run across in the inning, but that seemed to turn the momentum in the game.
The Lady Cardinals erupted for five runs in the fifth before tacking on three more in the sixth against Kate Wilkosz, who pitched that inning before Shrock returned to the circle in the seventh.
After going hitless through three, DCC exploded for 12 hits over the final four innings — 11 coming in the fourth through sixth frames when the Lady Cardinals did all their scoring.
Eight different Lady Cardinals contributed to that hit parade, with DCC once again getting some key hits from the bottom of its order. However, unlike Tuesday when the lower half of the order accounted for half of the team’s 16 hits, Thursday’s late surge was fueled by the veterans at the top of the order.
The trio of seniors Jordy Frank and Riley Assalone and sophomore Ashley Wruble, who hit 2-4 in the order, combined for seven hits — five for extra bases — six RBIs and six runs scored.
Assalone led the way with a 3-for-3 day that featured two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored. Wruble also was perfect at the plate, finishing 2-for-2 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs. Frank was 2-for-5 with a RBI triples and two runs.
The trio jump-started the comeback in the fifth, with Frank blasting her RBI triple to right and Assalone and Wruble following with RBI doubles to put DCC on top for good at 4-3.
Those three extra base-hits came on the heels of a key pinch-hit single by Carley Semancik to lead off the fifth. Semancik, who was then bunted to second by Macey Hanes, also had a pinch-hit two-run triple in Tuesday’s win over Carmichaels.
Libby Maurer added a RBI groundout in the fifth, while Alyssa Bittner’s run-scoring single to center capped the five-run outburst that appeared to take the wind out of the sails of the Lady Panthers and their fans.
Assalone’s clutch double in the inning seemed to re-energize the Lady Cardinal, who finished strong despite not having her best stuff on the day. Assalone allowed the three earned runs and six hits through four innings, which had DCC coach George Heigel contemplating a switch to Wruble in the circle.
But, Heigel elected to stuck with his senior, and Assalone responded by retiring the District 10 champs in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings after Central grabbed the lead. In fact, Assalone retired 14 of the final 15 batters hse faced after Shrock’s homer.
With the win, DCC advances to the state semifinals for the second straight year and will get a highly anticipated rematch with WPIAL champ West Greene, who handed the Lady Cardinals’ their lone loss (5-2) last year in the state semis. West Greene beat Claysburg-Kimmel, 3-1, Thursday.
That game will be played Monday at a site and time to be determined.
“Riley did what needed to be done today,” said Heigel. “She wasn’t popping the glove and she wasn’t hitting her spots like she has been the last few games. And, I was fairly convinced I was going to change pitchers, and I always hate to do that. But, on the other hand you have do what is right for rest of the team.
“So, I struggled with that. I said in huddle there after the game, that I knew things were okay when I saw her sprinting out and beat everybody out to get the ball in bottom of the fifth I believe it was after she had the big hit. I knew then she was determined to finish the game then.”She wasn’t at her best, but she was good enough to get us the win.”
Heigel also pointed to how playing a tougher schedule during the regular season has paid dividends in the postseason with preparing the team for tighter games.
“We knew coming in that was a really good pitcher (Shrock), who spun the ball well and hit her spots inside and outside and had a good rise ball. But, I go back to playing those better, bigger schools during the season. We got down but didn’t panic today and knew we could come back.
“We came back earlier in the year on a couple teams. When you have good players, the coaching is pretty easy. You just remind them of things you have worked on. Most of time it’s just reflex, especially with seniors.”
After a scoreless first inning Thursday, DCC actually had the first opportunity to score in the second.
Wruble drew a leadoff walk and stole second with one out, just beating the throw. Maurer then put down a sacrifice bunt that first baseman Victoria Zachrich fielded. Zachrich lost the ball on the tag, and a hustling Wruble tried to score from second but was thrown out at the plate.
Commodore Perry (15-4) then grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third, as Brooke Shrock doubled and Mackenzie Larimer reached on an infield single ahead of Brittany Shrock’s three-run blast well over the fence in left-center.
Central wasted little time answering back in the top of the fourth, as it loaded the bases with no outs on singles by Frank and Assalone and a walk by Wruble. Shayleigh Gulvas then flared an infield single in front of the shortstop that scored Frank and reloaded the bases.
That’s all the Lady Cardinals could muster in the inning, as Shrock got three straight outs to leave the bases loaded. The inning ended on a basket catch by left fielder Sarah May where the ball popped out of her glove and she snagged it with her bare hand.
That play only momentarily slowed down the Lady Cardinals, who seized control of the game with their five-run fifth before adding on three more insurance runs in the sixth against Wilkosz.
Hanes got the sixth going when she legged out an infield single with one out. She promptly stole second and went to third on a wild pitch before Wilcosz struck out Frank for the second out.
But, Assalone and Wruble followed with back-to-back RBI doubles. Gulvas then reached on an error when Brittany Shrock dropped a high popup to short. Wruble, running hard with two outs, scored on the play to set the eventual final at 9-3.
“We had some key hits again from the lower half of our order,” said Heigel. “The one that comes to mind is Alyssa Bittner’s hit where she had a big hit for us.
“We also started out that big inning with a pinch-hit single up the middle on a changeup by Carley Semancik. So, we continue to get production all the way up through the order again.”