C-L rallies into PIAAs

Clarion-Limestone's Abby Knapp had the big hit for the Lions swatting a bases-loaded single in the top of the seventh. Knapp also came around to score on the play.

DUBOIS - Making history.

In a rubber match played at Heindl Field in DuBois which won't be forgotten anytime soon throughout the Clarion-Limestone School District, the Lions scored four times in the top of the seventh to stun rival Clarion, 6-2, in the District 9 Class A True Second-Place softball game and advance to the PIAA playoffs for the first time in school history.

"It means a lot," senior Cassidy Makray, the winning pitcher said. "I am so excited and thrilled. I am super proud of my team as a whole for pushing as hard as they did."

C-L, which played Cambridge Springs in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs Monday, June 7 (the game was played after the CLARION NEWS deadline), entered the District 9 playoffs as the seventh seed in a seven-team tournament but went 3-1 in the bracket while knocking off the second (Otto-Eldred), third (Elk County Catholic) and fifth (Clarion) seeds to earn the highest district finish in school history (The Lady Lions fell in the D9 title game to DuBois Central Catholic).

"Finishing second in the district is a big accomplishment for this program," C-L manager Jason Craig said. "It is a stepping stone for us. Coming into the season, we were hoping to compete in the KSAC and win a playoff game or two. So, this state playoffs now, is experience. This is nothing but a positive thing for our program right now."

The Lions had split their regular season games with Clarion - both coming in early April - with the Bobcats winning 11-10 at C-L April 6 when the Lady Lions had the tying run thrown out at the plate for the final out of the game and C-L taking home an 11-9 victory April 14 at Weaver Park.

Most thought Wednesday's game would be another high-scoring affair.

Instead, the teams found themselves in a pitcher's duel between Makray, a surprise starter, and Clarion's Payton Simko.

Makray, who had started just one game since May 1 prior to the contest, shutdown the potent Clarion offense that came into the game averaging 10.8 runs per game by allowing just two runs, both earned, on six hits and two walks while striking out seven.

"I found out yesterday morning at practice (I would be starting)," Makray said. "I just wanted) to shut down their top five or six batters and keep them kind of on the hands. That is what they struggled with the most, I think."

Simko, who came on strong late in the season, was nearly as good giving up six runs, just one earned, on six hits, three walks, a hit batter, and two runners reaching on strikeout/wild pitches.

But Simko's defense - something that gnawed at Clarion all season - struggled in the pivotal seventh inning committing three errors that helped lead to the four C-L runs breaking a 2-2 tie.

"It's something we have struggled with all year," Clarion manager Dan Shofestall said. "We talked out there. We have to get better. It's not that we didn't work at it. But we've got to get better at it. That's for sure. We struggled with defense, and we've got to get better at it."

The game-deciding hit in the seventh came off the bat of Abby Knapp, who came up with a bases-loaded single with one out that ended up clearing the bases when the ball got past Clarion left fielder Mackenzie Aaron leaving Knapp at third (she later scored the fourth run of the inning on a wild pitch).

"Abby Knapp has been a solid player for us all year," C-L manager Jason Craig said. "We knew what it was going to take the third time against Clarion. We knew it was going to be close. We knew it was going to take timely hitting. I didn't care who it came from. We just needed someone to get a hit with runners in scoring position, and Abby Knapp came through big right. I'm glad she's in ninth grade and I will have her for three more years."

C-L lead 2-0 after 2 1/2 innings thanks to a run in the second and one in the third before Clarion cut the deficit in half with a run in the bottom of the third.

The Bobcats then tied the game in the fifth but probably believed they should have scored more.

With one out, Emily Troese singled to center, and Aaron followed with a single to right that sent Troese to third. But Troese tried to score on the hit, and C-L nailed her at the plate when the throw came into Makray in the circle, and Makray fired to catcher Abby Himes, who blocked the plate to prevent Troese from scoring.

"I didn't really see it," Shofestall, who coaches first base, said. "I haven't talked to (third base coach) Matt Best about it. It happens. They made a good play."

Anthony followed with the game-tying double after Anthony went to third when a pickoff throw by Himes went down into the right-field corner, and Clarion had runners on first and third with two outs after Best's popup touched by Makray in fair territory giving Best an infield single.

But Makray got Cambell to fly out to Knapp in center to end the threat.

Clarion had a chance to take the lead in the sixth putting runners on second and third with just one out before Makray worked her way out of the jam by striking out Bri Forrest and getting Emily Troese to pop back to Makray.

Chris Rossetti is founder and part-owner of D9and10Sports.com.