ST. MARYS — The St. Marys Minor League All-Star softball team knocked off Punxsutawney, 4-2, Saturday afternoon at Benzinger Park to reach the District 10 championship game as the lone undefeated team left in the tournament.
The matchup was closely contested, with St. Marys’ Avery Eckels and Punxsy’s Brinley Hallman dueling in the circle. Both pitchers threw well, but St. Marys was the team that proved to be able to generate a little more offense.
St. Marys finished with five hits off Hallman — the biggest of which was a two-run, inside-the-park home run by Kayen Eozzo in the bottom of fourth that proved to be the difference in the game.
Eozzo’s homer put St. Marys up 4-0 at the time, but Punxsy didn’t go quietly and pushed a run across in each of the final two innings to make it 4-2. However, Eckels and her defense shut the door on Punxsy in the sixth to finish off the win.
St. Marys center fielder Sidney Reider made two key catches in the sixth after Maggie Guidice led off the inning with a single and took second on a wild pitch. Guidice was 2-for-3.
On the first, Reider sprinted into right-center and made a leaping catch over teammate Guiliana Muccio. She then sprinted in towards the infield haul in a fly ball off the bat of Olivia Toven, rolling over as she made the grab.
The play went as a sacrifice fly that scored Guidice to make it 4-2, but the two catches proved vital in the victory to shutting down what could have been a bigger inning for Puxnsy.
Eckels ended the game with a strikeout. She went the distance, allowing two runs, one earned, on two hits while striking out nine and walking two.
St. Marys now awaits the winner of the loser bracket finals between Punxsy and DuBois, a game that will played on Monday at a site to be determined. The winner of that contest will then have to beat St. Marys twice if it wants to win the district title.
Punxsy’s Maggie Guidice led off the game with a single but was promptly thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Calleigh Buzard. It was all Eckels from there as she retired the ensuing eight batters to face the minimum through three innings.
Molly Hanslovan got things started with a one-out single to right. Eckels followed with a single of her own to put runners on the corners. Eckels then took second without a throw before Hanslovan scored on a wild pitch that saw Eckels reach third.
Eozzo and Alison Mertz each drew walks around a popup to load the bases with two outs, but St. Marys couldn’t push another run across as Hallman got a strikeout to end the threat.
Hallman then fended off a St. Marys rally in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Bailey Thorwart and Hanslovan each drew walks but Hallman used another strikeout to end the inning with runners of second and third. St. Marys stranded seven runners in the game — five in scoring position.
Meanwhile, Eckels continued to roll in the circle in the third, recording her third straight 1-2-3 inning.
She then got a little more offensive support in the bottom of the third.
Eozzo led off the inning with a walk and promptly took second on a wild pitch. Buzard followed with a single to right to plate Eozzo to make it 2-0. Buzard wasted little time stealing second.
Mertz followed with a walk, with ball four being in the dirt. Buzard hustled to third and tried to score on the throw back to the pitcher, but Hallman was alert on the play and threw back to the plate in time to get her.
Sophia Surra later walked with two outs, but Hallman stymied another St. Marys rally by fielding a bunt by Maddie Lanzel and throwing to first to end the inning.
Eckels continued her role into the fourth, getting the first two batters before Toven worked a two-out walk. She was quickly erased on a fielder’s choice though.
St. Marys scored its final two runs in the bottom of the fourth on Eozzo’s two-out, two-run homer. Hanslovan, who was 2-for-2, scored on the shot to right field.
Punxsy finally found the scoreboard in the fifth, as a pair of St. Marys errors on the same play after Ava Fleming drew a two-walk led to Fleming scoring to make it 4-1.
Thunder in the area then halted the game for about a half hour, and when things resumed, St. Marys got a quick out to end the top of the fifth.
A weird sequence ensued in the bottom of the fifth where St. Marys batted out of order with one out. The end result was only two girls officially batted in the inning for Punxsy to record all three outs.
Punxsy then put together one finally rally in the sixth but managed just the one run thanks in large part to the two nice plays in center by Reider.