WELLSBORO — History made.
The St. Marys Minor League All-Stars became the first Minors team in St. Marys Little League history to claim a state title with a 11-1, four-inning victory over Northwest in the championship game Wednesday.
The title marks the fourth time a St. Marys softball team has won the state championship, as it has won the Junior League crown each of the last two years and its fourth title came in 2013 at the Senior League level.
“It’s a really cool thing given the talent level that’s come through the St. Marys organization over the last ten years, for these girls to pull it off is absolutely amazing and I’m so proud of them,” St. Marys manager Bill Thorwart said.
St. Marys was able to fight its way through the losers bracket on the way to claiming the title after losing its second game in the tournament Friday.
After suffering a 1-0 loss to Delaware Valley, St. Marys rattled off five elimination game victories in as many days, including an avenging 6-1 win over Delaware Valley in the losers’ bracket final Monday.
St. Marys then topped Northwest 7-2 in Tuesday’s first championship game to force Wednesday’s winner-take-all contest where it came away with a commanding victory.
“These girls are grinders, they’re champions and they always have been,” Thorwart said. “They basically win every tournament they get in to, so I knew we had a shot even though we lost that game early.”
“A lot of the better pitchers ended up in the losers’ bracket, so we knew we had a battle and they do what they always do, they got it together and started hitting the ball and came back to amazingly 10-run a team in the state title game.”
Wednesday’s game saw each team score a run in the first inning, but St. Marys quickly pulled away for the win, as it sent nine batters to the plate in each of the second and third innings, scoring three and five runs respectively to take a commanding lead.
A pair of runs in the fourth brought the lead to 10 runs, as Avery Eckels, who was a force in the circle yet again after allowing an unearned run in the bottom of the first, retired the side in order in the fourth with a pair of strikeouts to close out the title-clinching win.
In the top of the first, Bailey Thorwart led off for St. Marys by reaching on an error when a grounder back to the pitcher was bobbled.
After a strikeout for the first out, Molly Hanslovan singled to right to put two runners aboard.
With Kaylen Eozzo at the plate, a wild pitch got away from Northwest catcher Payton Beshecker as both runners attempted to move up a base.
Beshecker was able to track down the loose ball and fire to third just in time to get Thorwart for the second out of the frame.
Eozzo eventually drew a walk to keep the inning alive, before Eckels helped her own cause by singling back up the middle to score Hanslovan from second for the game’s first run.
Two-out hitting was key for St. Marys in the win, as it scored nine of its 11 runs in the victory with two outs.
In the home half of the first, Beshecker led off by reaching on an infield single to short.
With Natalie Lilly at the plate, a wild pitch allowed Beshecker to move up to second, as the throw back to the circle got by Eckels and rolled into shallow right field.
The arrant throw allowed Beshecker to come around and score from second to tie the game at one after an inning of play.
After Lilly was able to strike out the first two St. Marys batters in the second, the next six batters reached on three singles and three walks to plate three runs.
Thorwart and Calleigh Buzard started the two-out rally with back-to-back walks, before Hanslovan singled to center to score Thorwart for the go-ahead run.
Eozzo followed with an infield single to load the bases, before Eckels came through with a big hit for the second straight inning, hitting a bloop single to right-center to score Buzard and Hanslovan to push the lead to 4-1.
It didn’t take long for St. Marys to get back to bat in the third inning, as Eckels quickly struck out the Northwest side in the bottom of the second.
Maddie Lanzel led off the third by reaching on a pinch-hit walk, as a strikeout followed for the inning’s first out.
Thorwart then reached for the third time in as many innings by singling to left to put two runners on.
After a fly out on the infield, St. Marys began another two-out rally as Hanslovan kick-started things with a two-RBI triple into the right-center gap to score Lanzel and Thorwart.
The big hit chased Northwest starting pitcher Smith from the game as it turned to Natalie Lilly in the circle.
Eozzo greeted Lilly by driving a pitch passed the left fielder as she raced all the way around for a two-run, inside-the-park homer to bring the score to 8-1.
Eckels kept the hits coming with a single to left before moving up on a wild pitch and scoring when Giuliana Muccio singled to right to push the lead to eight runs.
Northwest was able to get two runners on base in the bottom of the third on an error and a two-out single by Smith.
Eckels got out of the inning by forcing a groundout to third as Beshecker was forced out at third on the play.
After the game Thorwart stressed the importance of an entire team effort, as he said everyone up and down the lineup had strong at-bats and specifically mentioned the play of Zoe Romanic.
Romanic came in to play off the bench Wednesday, as she had been forced into the starting position at first base after Eozzo was injured during the District 10 tournament and was not able to return to the field until Tuesday’s game.
“It’s been a very cool thing for me to see as a coach, Zoe Romanic had two days to learn to play first base after we lost Eozzo,” Thorwart said. “She played phenomenally the whole way through and got us here until we got (Eozzo) back.”
“(Eozzo) comes back and the first thing she does is start knocking balls out into the outfield, so it was truly a team thing.”
In the fourth, St. Marys used three straight one-out singles to score a pair of runs and push its lead to double digits.
Romanic accounted for the first hit, ripping a pitch to center, before Thowart beat out a throw from short for an infield single.
Buzard followed with a single to left, as the ball skipped passed the left fielder on the play allowing Romanic and Thorwart to score on the error.
In the bottom of the inning, Eckels recorded a pair of strikeouts around a groundout to first to close out the mercy-rule victory.
St. Marys now moves on to the East Region Invitation as play begins Sunday in Jenkins Township.