Engeholm's walk-off caps dramatic Punxsy win

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Entering the home half of the seventh inning tied 3-3 with St. Marys Tuesday night in Punxsutawney, the Lady Chucks softball team knew the worst case scenario was extra innings if it didn't score. The Lady Chucks also know a team should never put the bats back in its opponent's hands, and Punxsy prevented that from happening in dramatic fashion with a walk-off single by leadoff hitter Chelsea Engeholm sending it to a 4-3 victory over the Lady Dutch.

The seventh-inning magic started with a pinch hit single by Ashley Walls coming off the bench, forcing Punxsy head coach Alan Pifer to make a last-second strategy change.

"I actually had Savanna Hallman lined up to pinch hit on deck," he said. "But Monica (Cameron) is a little bit better bunter. She wasn't able to get it down exactly where she needed to, but we still had someone on base."

No. 9 hitter Lauren Ball came to the plate with Cameron on first after an attempted sacrifice and laid down a bunt, advancing Cameron to second. At that point, Punxsy made another substitution in the No. 8 hole, bringing in pinch runner Emily Horner with Engeholm coming up to bat.

"After Lauren put the runner in scoring position, I went up and whispered to Chelsea, 'Just relax, hit the ball, and we win this game.' And that's just what she did."

Engeholm connected on a pitch by St. Marys' hurler Rachel Ginther, sending the ball into center field, and Horner raced around from second to beat the throw home and give Punxsy the victory.

Pifer said Engeholm's success at the plate Tuesday was no surprise, as coming up with big hits is something she's been doing all season.

"She's been doing a great job all year long from that leadoff position," he said. "And she came through once again. She's the type of kid that gets down on herself if she doesn't succeed every time she tries something. She can hit a line drive right on the button, and she'll still be upset it wasn't a hit if they get her our. But that's just the way she is. She expects a lot from herself, and she's a great player."

Another Lady Chuck who performed well Tuesday afternoon was starting pitcher Ashley Bacha — from both the circle and the batter's box.

Bacha pitched a complete game, allowing three runs — none of which were earned — on just three hits. She allowed just one walk — and tht runner was caught stealing in the top of the fifth — and she struck out 11, including three in the seventh to strike out the side with the game tied at three.

"Ashley really battled on the mound," Pifer said. "She came up with some key outs in key positions.

Bacha jump started Punxsy's performance in the first inning by retiring the side in order — including a pair of strikeouts.

After the teams switched sides, Engeholm worked her magic with a leadoff double just out of the center fielder's reach.

Engeholm moved to third base on a wild pitch, but Ginther managed to retire the next two Punxsy hitters, leaving Engeholm at third with two outs.

After cleanup hitter Johnna Depp reached base via a walk, Punxsy employed an aggressive base running strategy, using a perfectly-executed double steal to score Engeholm.

Depp sprinted for second on the pitch to No. 5 hitter Ivy Philips, and while she was caught in the pickle, Engeholm scored before Depp was tagged out.

Neither team scored in the second inning, but the Lady Dutch drew their first blood in the top of the third with a pair of runs to take a 2-1 lead.

Lady Dutch catcher Cassie Wonderling started the inning with a leadoff single — the first hit off of Bacha — but Bacha retired the next two hitters to put two down.

Unfortunately for the Lady Chucks, Erica Sorg came to the plate and hit a fly ball to left field. A pair of Punxsy players appeared to have a beat on it, but a miscommunication between them allowed the ball to fall to the ground, scoring Wonderling.

Sorg ended up on third when it was all said and done, and No. 2 hitter Kali Quagliani came through with a clutch RBI single to left to give the Lady Dutch their first lead of the game.

"Early in the game, when we had a miscommunication in the outfield, we gave them a few runs," Pifer said. "But Ashley just battled. That would have been the third out of the inning, and fortunately, it didn't come back to bite us."

After each team was set down in order over the next inning, Punxsy struck again in the bottom of the fourth with two runs of its own to regain its lead, 3-2.

Janie Depp-Hutchinson led off the inning with a single right back up the middle past a diving Lady Dutch second baseman, and Sydney Phillips followed suit with a nearly-identical single of her own.

Depp sacrificed the pair of Punxsy runners to second and third with a bunt, and with two outs, Bacha came to the plate with the opportunity to help her own cause.

And Bacha delivered with a two-RBI single up the middle to plate Depp-Hutchinson and Phillips.

Sorg scored her second run of the day for the Lady Dutch in the visitors' half of the sixth inning after leading off with an opposite-field single and advancing to third base on a pair of passed balls.

Ginther helped her own cause by driving Sorg in on a sacrifice pop out to second baseman Alex Magill.

Magill made a nice catch over her shoulder to retire Ginther, but Sorg was able to beat the throw home as Magill's momentum carried her away from the plate.

Punxsy threatened to answer immediately in its half of the frame, but after a pair of singles by Depp and Ivy Phillips, Ginther retired Bacha to end the threat.

Bacha bounced right back with her strongest inning of the night, though, striking out the first three hitters she faced and giving the Lady Chucks the momentum heading into what would prove to be the final half inning.

"The girls all battled back for us today," Pifer said. "I told the girls it was a good team effort. We used people pinch hitting and pinch running. Like over at Curwensville (Monday), this was a very similar victory. We used almost the whole bench that day, and they came through. It was the same thing today."

The victory was Punxsy's second over the Lady Dutch this season and just the second loss of the season for the Lady Dutch.

After the game, Pifer knew his squad had found a way to defeat a good team and a solid pitcher for the second time this year.

"That girl (Ginther) is a fantastic pitcher, and you can't take anything away from her performance," Pifer said. "She had a good game against Elk County (last Friday) where she didn't walk any and she struck out 13. We did some things in practice to work on and get better from last time we faced her. It was good to see that pay off."

After the thrilling victory, the Lady Chucks have a full week off before hosting Bald Eagle next Tuesday to kick off a busy stretch that will see Punxsy play eight games over an 11-day stretch.

The JV squad, however, will be back in action Thurs- day with a road trip to Elk County.