DuBOIS — A dominant pitching performance by junior Kaitlyn Constantino, coupled with some timely hitting, propelled Clarion back to the state playoffs Saturday as the Lady Cats blanked Otto-Eldred, 4-0, in the District 9 Class A True Second Place Game at Heindl Field.
Constantino never let the top-seeded Lady Terrors (18-4) get any footing in the 11 a.m. contest as she tossed a two-hit shutout, facing just two over the minimum (21 batters) in the process. Constantino struck out 15 and walked none. She recorded eight straight strikeouts at one point.
Otto’s only two runners came on a leadoff single by Emmalee Sheeler in the fourth and a one-out single by Gabby Nickerson in the bottom of the seventh. Only Nickerson got as far as second base.
Lady Terror Abby Wolfe did her part to keep her team in the game, but Clarion’s offense did just enough with some clutch hits to claw out a couple runs for Constantino.
That effort was led by the Best sisters — Carly and Jordan. Senior Carly went 3-for-3 with a pair of bunt singles and two stolen bases while scoring three of her team’s four runs. Younger sister Jordan, a freshman, finished 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs — both a which came courtesy of Carly scoring.
Payton Simko also had two hits in the victory, which sent the second-seeded Lady Cats back to the state playoffs for the first time since 2016. Clarion will play D-10 champ Commodore Perry on Monday at 12:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock University.
“She’s done it pretty much all year,” said Clarion coach Dan Shofestall of Constantino’s performance. “When she’s on, she’s on, and that was the name of the game. She didn’t walk anybody and when she has control like that, and her different pitches are working, she’s tough.
“And, when we did have to play defense behind her, we played pretty well. We did struggled with the bats today and just couldn’t string the hits together. We did have some clutch hits there at the end though and Jordan (Best) had a big one there (RBI triple in 7th). Carly sparked us, and that’s why we have her in that spot (No. 2 in lineup). A lot of our innings (that produce runs) revolve around her, and she’s done of lot of things there for us this year.
“We’re young in a lot of areas, but we fight out here, and I guess that’s why we’re going to states. We have good pitching and keep fighting behind her. I think that’s the key to our team.”
After Wolfe worked around a hit batter in the top of the first, Constantino set the tone right away for the Lady Cats in the bottom of the first. She got a nice play from Carly Best to open the inning, as the senior second baseman made a sliding stop on a ball hit by Autumn Smith before throwing out Smith from her knees.
Constantino then struck out the next eight hitters she faced.
Clarion (17-5) got her the lead with a run in the top of the third.
Carly Best jump-started a rally when she blooped a single down the right-field line. She stole second before Brenna Campbell hit a shot down the same line that rolled around in the right-field corner. Campbell legged out a triple, after initially holding at second, that played Best to make it 1-0.
Wolfe halted things there, getting Jordan Best to fly out to end the inning.
Constantino saw her bid for a perfect game end in the top of the fourth with Sheeler’s leadoff single to center. The hit didn’t faze the Lady Cat, who proceeded to retire the next nine batters.
Clarion tried to add to its lead during that same stretch of the game.
The Lady Cats put two in scoring position in the fourth when Lindsey Kemmer singled with one out and Ava Kiser reached on a two-out error. But, Wolfe got Noel Anthony to foul out to the catcher to end the threat.
Wolfe wasn’t so lucky in the fifth.
Constantino led off the inning with a single to center. Carly Best then beat out a bunt single, but Constantino was thrown out trying to go to third on the play. Wolfe then got Campbell to fly out to center, but Jordan Best delivered a clitch two-out single to center that scored her sister.
However, it wasn’t an easy run for Carly Best to score, as she initially pulled short of home as they throw came in. Otto catcher Britney Greeley appeared to take a quick peek at where Best was and the one-hop throw bounced off her far enough away that Best was able to dive in safely to make it 2-0.
Wolfe worked around singles by Simko and Anthony in the sixth to keep it a 2-0 game, but Clarion tacked on two huge insurance runs in the seventh.
Carly Best led off the seventh with another hunt single and stole second before scoring on a one-out triple to left by sister Jordan. Tori Vega followed with a groundout to second that brought home Jordan Best to put Clarion up 4-0.
Otto-Eldred got the one-out single from Nickerson in the bottom of the seventh, but Constantino struck out Reilly Raught before Wolfe grounded out Campbell at shortstop to end the game and send the Lady Cats to the state playoffs against Commodore Perry — a game set to be played less than 48 hours after Clarion’s win Saturday.
Nonetheless, Shofestall is excited to move beyond district play for the first time in three years. Clarion lost to West Greene (12-2, 5 innings) in the first round of states back in 2016.
“It means a lot,” said Shofestall of being back in states. “When we started this season, we saw right away we had a lot of work to do. They worked hard every night at it, and this is a team that believes.
“They don’t get down on each other, and they don’t mope around and all get along. You don’t win big games and go to the state playoffs if you don’t have good chemistry, and I think that’s what our team has. We have the right players on this team, and I tell them that all the time. It’s having right kind of player that makes good things happen.”
The Lady Cats hope that team chemistry, and Constantino’s strong pitching, continue Monday against Commodore Perry (12-6), which outlast Cambridge Springs, 10-9, in eight innings in the District 10 title game on Monday.
Commodore Perry’s led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple off the wall that nearly went out for a home run at Penn State Behrend. Mackenzie Larimer then hit a blast of her own to the wall that went down as a walk-off single to give the Lady Panthers the win and D-10 title.
Snyder has four hits and two RBIs in the win, while Larimer had three hits and four RBIs. Taylor Stringert added two hits, while Chayda Knierman drove in two runs for the Lady Panthers.
Commodore Perry was last in the state playoffs two years, when the D-10 champ Lady Panthers won their opening game before losing 9-3 to D-9 champ DuBois Central Catholic in the quarterfinals.