ST. MARYS — Almost every athlete and team has faced adversity at one point or another, as it is often said that how they deal with that adversity is the difference between good and great.
The St. Marys Minor League All-Stars faced plenty of adversity throughout the District 10 tournament, but that did not stop them from securing the title with a 6-3 victory over Punxsutawney in the championship game Sunday at Benzinger Park.
Last week over the span of a few days the team lost its manager Matt Eckels and key starter Kaylen Eozzo before suffering a 3-2 loss to Punxsutawney in the first championship game Wednesday.
Eckels self-reported himself after a player came short of her minimum play requirement during a win over Punxsy in the winner’s bracket finals, while Eozzo was injured in the game and has not returned to action since.
“It was unfortunate we lost him (Eckels), but these girls proved time and time again that they are champions, they proved it last year and proved it again this year,” manager Bill Thorwart said.
“Losing Eozzo is not a good thing, she’s a really good player and hopefully we can get her back if we keep winning.”
The teams were then set to face for a third time in the tournament Friday night, before the game was postponed to Sunday due to weather.
On top of all that, St. Marys found itself facing a deficit right out of the gate as Punxsy got off to a hot start at the plate in the top of the first to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.
The home side overcame the suspension, injury and the deficit, riding a dominant pitching performance by Avery Eckels over the final five innings and timely hitting to go along with a handful of crucial defensive mistakes by Punxsutawney to secure the victory and claim the D-10 title.
“It was a lot of adversity we faced this year, but the girls as always came through,” Thorwart said.
Punxsutawney came out swinging in the first inning, as Maggie Guidice led off by reaching on an infield single before starting pitcher Brinley Hallman helped her cause by driving an RBI triple down the right-field line.
After a strike out for the first out of the inning, Olivia Toven added an RBI triple of her own to right field.
Toven then came in to score when the throw to third on the play got away and rolled into foul territory to bring the score to 3-0.
Eckels responded by retiring the next two better by way of a groundout to second and a strikeout to end the inning.
Those two outs started a stretch of 15 straight batters retired for the St. Marys starter, who retired the side in the second, third and fourth before strucking out the side in the fifth.
St. Marys fought back in the bottom half of the first with a pair of runs to trim the deficit to one.
Bailey Thorwart led off the inning for the home side as it appeared she had struck out for the inning’s first out, but the home plate umpire called an illegal pitch on Punxsy starter Brinley Hallman as Thorwart was brought back to the plate.
She took advantage of the second chance, driving a single into center field and advancing to second when the ball skipped away from the center fielder.
Calleigh Buzard followed with a productive out, grounding out to the pitcher as Thorwart moved over to third on the play before scoring on a wild pitch.
After another groundout for the second inning, Eckels hit a grounder to third as it appeared Punxsy would get out of the inning with a 3-1 lead.
Instead the ball sailed over first base allowing Eckels to reach safely and take second on the play, as she was then replaced by special pinch runner Maddie Lanzel.
Lanzel promptly stole third and came in to score when the throw got away and rolled down the left-field line as Punxsy held a 3-2 lead after the first.
St. Marys tied things up in the second when Giuliana Muccio led off with a double to left-center before moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Alexa Uhl.
Zoe Romanic followed by hitting a grounder to third, as Punxsy looked to get the lead runner out at home.
The throw beat Muccio to the plate, but the ball was dropped before the tag was made as St. Marys tied the game at three after two innings of play.
St. Marys took its first lead of the game in the third with three runs to go ahead 6-3.
Molly Hanslovan led off by ripping a pitch into the left-field corner as she raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, which proved to be the game-winning run.
Eckels and Lanzel then reached on back-to-back errors on a dropped fly ball and a bobbled grounder respectively before both moving up a base on a fielder’s indifference.
Muccio followed with her second double of the game, sending a pitch into left field to plate both runners and give St. Marys a three-run lead.
Those proved to be the final runs of the game as both teams were held in check in the final three innings.
Punxsutawney manage just one hit in the game outside of the first inning, as Hallman reached on a one-out infield single in the sixth inning.
Eckels responded by striking out the next two batters as St. Marys claimed the district title with a 6-3 victory.
The starter allowed just the three first-inning runs on four hits while walking none and striking out 10 to pick up the win.
Thorwart noted that the extra time between games gave the team an opportunity to prepare for at-bats against Hallman.
“Brinley Hallman is a great pitcher so we spent quite a bit of time ratcheting up the pitching machine and trying to get on her today and it came through for these girls,” Thorwart said.
St. Marys begins play in the Section 1 Tournament Wednesday in Corry, facing District 1 champ Cochranton in its first game at 6 p.m.