ST. MARYS — The St. Marys Minor League Softball All-Star team put itself in the driver’s seat at the three-team Section 1 Tournament with a 6-2 win against Harborcreek Tuesday evening at Benzinger Park.
St. Marys, which was the visiting team in the game, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first — and that proved to be enough offense for starter Avery Eckels.
Harborcreek fought back into the game with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second to get within a run a 3-2. However, the District 3 champs managed just one baserunner the rest of the way — a one-out infield single by Brooke Przybylski in the bottom of the sixth.
Eckels retired 13 of the final 14 batters she faced as part of a complete-game three-hitter. She allowed the two runs, one earned, while striking out 11 and walking none.
The offense got her a huge insurance run in the fourth on a RBi single by Gina Geci before all but putting the game away with two more runs in sixth to set the eventual final.
Geci led the offensive attack, going 3-for-4 with a double, RBI and two runs scored. Eckels helped her own cause with a 2-for-4 day, knocking in a pair of runs while scoring once.
With the win, St. Marys clinched a day off and a spot in Thursday’s championship game, which is set for 4 p.m. at Benzinger Park. St. Marys awaits the winner of today’s losers’ bracket game between Harborcreek and Meadville/Vernon — a matchup Harborcreek won 7-3 in the section opener Monday.
“That first inning was really huge, to jump on them 3-0,” said St. Marys Matt Eckels. “That’s the way it has to be to let them know you’re here to play. We want to be aggressive, and that’s what we’ve taught the girls all year — always look to get to the next base.
“This was a big one to win, and I’m very happy with the girls’ performance. It’s amazing to see how these girls have evolved and the the ball players they have become.
“Hopefully, we don’t get too relaxed (with day off). I want them to keep the pedal down and keep rolling right into the final game, and hopefully we can cllose it out on
St. Marys’ Molly Hanslovan led off the game with a single to right and went first-to-third on a single by Geci. Eckels followed with a groundout that plated Hanslovan. Kaylen Eozzo then reached on an error to put runners on the corners with one out.
Geci and Eozzo eventually scored on wild pitches before Harborcreek starter Talon King recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. King went the distance herself, giving up six runs (four earned) on eight hits while striking out seven and walking five.
Harborcreek scored both its runs in the bottom of the second to make it a game.
King led off the inning with an infield single and scored on a single to right by Aisling McFadden as St. Marys was slow getting the ball back into the infield.
Eckels then recorded back-to-back outs before Arianna Drenning reached on a two-out error that allowed McFadden to score.
That’s as close as Harborcreek got though as Eckels settled into a groove over the final four-plus innings.
The District 3 champs made two big defensive plays in the third, cutting down two St. Marys runners at the plate to keep it a 3-2 game.
However, St. Marys found the scoreboard again in the fourth to extend its lead.
Ava Villella got things started with a one-out walk. She stole second and went to third on a wild pitch before Maddie Lanzel was by a pitch.
King got a popup for the second out, but Geci hustled out an infield single that scored Villella to make it 4-2.
St. Marys then left the bases loaded in the fifth before tallying its final two runs in the sixth.
Geci was in the middle of things again, as her one-out double down the left-field line jump-started the inning. Eckels followed with a single to center that plated Geci. Eckels ended up at third on the play when the ball got past the center fielder.
After Eozzo drew a walk, Eckels scored when Calleigh Buzard grounded out to shortstop to put her team up 6-2.
Harborcreek got the one-out infield single by Przybylski in the bottom of the sixth, but Eckels book-ended the inning with a pair of strikeouts looking to help send St. Marys to the title game.