Home finale comeback foiled by Lady Lions

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It had all the ingredients of yet another Lady Chucks' come-from-behind, thrilling victory. But unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending, and the Lady Lions of Altoona eked out an 11-10, eight-inning victory over Punxsy Thursday afternoon in its home finale.

"That was a tough loss today," Punxsy head coach Alan Pifer said. "We had a lot of chances and left too many girls on base. We battled back, and that was encouraging. But it is definitely disappointing that we had our chances and just couldn't seem to score when we really needed to."

The main reason the Lady Chucks had to battle back was a rough first half-inning, which saw the Lady Lions bring all nine of their hitters to the plate and score five runs on five hits off starter Randa Depp.

Despite the big inning, though, Depp's pitching really wasn't at fault. It seemed as if most of the fault could be laid on another lady: Lady luck.

Four of Altoona's five hits came on bleeders that were just inches away from being routine plays for the Lady Chucks' solid defense.

"You hate to take anything away from Altoona, because they did hit well later in the game," Pifer said. "But early on, Randa was hitting her spots, and they were just pushing and blooping them in. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, because they're a good team, and they made the plays and played well enough to win today. But it just seemed like none of the breaks went our way early."

Altoona's five-run inning was started with a pair of singles — a weak single up the middle by leadoff hitter Margot Berry and a sharply-struck single between shortstop and third.

Didi Rizzo attempted to sacrifice her teammates to second and third, but when Berry beat Punxsy's throw down to third, all three runners were safe, and the bases were loaded for cleanup hitter Amanda Parrish.

Parrish connected on a pitch, blooping it just over shortstop Chelsea Engeholm's glove, and Berry scored.

Shania Feathers followed with another single, this time just out of reach from third baseman Ivy Phillips.

The Lady Chucks recorded their first out when Morgan James grounded out to second baseman Alex Magill, but Rizzo scored on the groundout to make it 3-0 Altoona.

Marshe Barnes — Altoona's No. 7 hitter — capped the rally with a soft, two-RBI single to right-center.

Punxsy leadoff hitter Engeholm got things rolling for the Lady Chucks with a leadoff, four-pitch walk, and she advanced to second base on a groundout to third base by Johnna Depp.

Altoona starter Kirsten Kerr retired the next two Punxsy hitters on groundouts, though, to strand Engeholm at second.

Randa Depp settled in to retire Altoona in order in the top of the second, and the Lady Chucks drew first blood in the bottom of the second.

Monica Cameron started it off with a one-out single to right-center, and Sarah London reached base on a catcher's interference call after hitting Barnes' glove during her swing.

With two outs, Depp helped her own cause with an RBI single up the middle to plate Cameron and pull Punxsy back within four.

After a leadoff single in the top of the third, Depp set down the next three Altoona hitters again, and Punxsy rolled with the momentum from a nice inning-ending play by London — snagging a line drive down the first baseline that would have been bound for the right-field corner had she not caught it — to add two more runs to its total.

The Lady Chucks received a bit of help from the Lady Lions, with Ivy Phillips being granted a one-out walk, and Sydney Phillips reaching on a misplayed ball by the third baseman. A throwing error by the third baseman allowed the runners to move to third and second, respectively.

Ivy Phillips ended up scoring on an RBI single by Savannah Hallman, and Sydney Phillips scored on an RBI groundout by Cameron to cut the Lady Lions' lead to 5-3.

Altoona added some breathing room with two in the fourth and one more in the fifth — highlighted by a pair of RBI singles by Berry and one by Parrish, giving the Lady Lions a 8-3 advantage with just two-and-a-half innings to play.

In the bottom of the fifth, though, it was Punxsy's turn to bat around, bringing nine hitters to the plate and scoring six runs on six hits to take a 9-8 lead.

Ashley Walls came through with a pinch-hit single — her first of three hits on the day — to start the rally, and with two outs, senior Janie-Depp Hutchinson came through with a single of her own.

Lauren Ball — Punxsy's third pinch hitter of the inning — hustled out an RBI infield single, and Ashley Bacha, who had come in to relieve Depp as pitcher in the top half of the inning, reached via an error to load the bases for Engeholm.

The top of Punxsy's order came through big with two outs, as Engeholm, Johnna Depp and Ivy Phillips each delivered singles to drive in runs.

Engeholm's was a one-RBI infield single, and Depp and Phillips each drove in a pair with sharp singles up the middle.

Phillips was thrown out trying to move up to second base on the throw home after her single to end the threat with Punxsy ahead by one.

Unfortunately for Punxsy, the lead wouldn't last, as Parrish picked up her fourth hit of the game on a deep, line-drive home run to left-center

Punxsy threatened in the bottom of the sixth, with Walls singling and being sacrificed to second by Cameron, but she was stranded there after a two-out Depp-Hutchinson frozen rope was snagged by Parrish at short.

"Janie was all over that," Pifer said. "Unfortunately, it just didn't get through. Those are the breaks, though. That's exactly how it happens sometimes. They got more breaks than we did today."

And in the seventh, Engeholm reached on a two-out single, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but she was stranded there, as well, when Kerr managed to strike out Johnna Depp.

"We had our chances, too," Pifer said. "It just feels like we left too many on base. We have a couple girls who aren't quite hitting the ball like they can, and hopefully, we can get that righted before the playoffs."

In the top of the eighth, a pair of fielding blunders cost the Lady Chucks a pair of runs, when Rizzo and James each reached on singles and picked up extra bases when the balls skipped past the outfielders and to the fence.

"We made a couple mistakes in the field to give them some extra bases, and that hurt us," Pifer said. "In a close game like that, those things can be magnified."

Altoona's first run came after a collision at first base, where Shania Feathers laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Magill put herself in harm's way to catch the throw.

Magill held on to tag Feathers out, but after the collision, Rizzo scampered home. Parrish — who had reached on an intentional walk after going 4-for-4 — scored what proved to be the game-winner on a James RBI single to put the Lady Lions ahead by two.

Ivy Phillips led off the eighth with a single, and senior Tori Martin earned a pinch-hit walk.

Walls picked up her third hit of the day to load the bases.

But after a nice play on a sharp line drive to left by Cameron, Phillips scored on an error by the catcher, who dropped a throw that would have given Altoona two outs.

Kerr held her own, though, and forced a fielder's choice at home, and Parrish made a nice unassisted play at third, barely beating out Depp-Hutchinson to the bag to end the game.

Punxsy finishes off its regular season today on the road against Clearfield at 4:15 p.m.

"We just want to stay sharp and rebound after a tough loss," Pifer said. "So, we'll see what happens."