One win away: LLSB All-Stars cruising through Sectionals

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Coming out of a difficult district — where it had to face fellow powerhouses DuBois and Warren — Punxsy's Little League softball All-Stars know they were lucky to have such solid competition.

And Tuesday and Wednesday, in the Section 1 Tournament hosted by Punxsutawney, the home squad showed the benefit of playing the stout competition early in the tournament with a pair of fairly comfortable wins over Franklin Tuesday and McLane Wednesday.

"You know, it was definitely a benefit playing teams like DuBois and Warren in our District and coming out on top," Punxsy head coach Mike Ishman said after Punxsy's 8-0 victory over McLane Wednesday. "And these girls hung in there through it all, and now they're just clicking. They're putting the bat on the ball; they're fielding and going after everything; they're listening and being aggressive on the base paths. I just can't say enough about these young girls. They're impressing me each and every day."

On a day when most folks were enjoying their air conditioning or braving the heat at an Independence Day picnic, Punxsy and McLane's squads locked horns in the winners' bracket final of the Section 1 Tournament, and Punxsy just proved to be the better team Wednesday on its own field.

Punxsy was led by another strong pitching outing by Alli Ishman, who allowed just one base hit early in the first inning and walked just one, allowing two runners in her complete game shutout.

After the coin toss, national anthem and Little League pledge, Punxsy came out firing as the visiting team on the scoreboard, putting up a three-spot in the top of the first with the help of three McLane errors.

Leadoff hitter Tessa Winebark reached safely to start the game on an error by the second baseman, and Morgan VanLeer followed with a bloop single just inside the third base line to put a pair on.

Both runners moved up 60 feet on a wild pitch, and Winebark came in to score on another wild pitch with Ishman in the box.

Ishman hit a ball sharply to third — one that was fielded cleanly and looked as if it would be a putout — but when the throw went wide, everyone was safe, and VanLeer had scored Punxsy's second run.

Ishman advanced to second on the wild throw, and cleanup hitter Danielle Bowser traded places with her by reaching on another throwing error, pushing her to second and scoring Ishman.

Morgan Adamson followed with a walk to put a pair on, but she was retired on a fielder's choice off the bat of Jordyn Powell.

McLane starter Abbie Staley settled in a bit, striking out Kerstin Nestel for the second out of the inning, but a two-out walk to No. 8 hitter McKenzie Atcheson loaded the bases.

With the bases packed, though, Staley worked out of the pinch by getting Alli Lunger to push one just in front of the plate, which ended up a fielder's choice — two-unassisted — and retired the side.

With a three-run cushion, Ishman went to work in the circle, striking out Kristen May to begin the game before she allowed her only hit — a weak bleeder up the middle by Haley Carter just out of second baseman VanLeer's reach.

A passed ball moved Carter to second base, but she was stranded there after Ishman struck out Mia Shaller, and Atcheson made a nice play on a 5-3 putout to retire McLane.

Ishman was perfect over the next four innings, setting everyone down in order by mixing her pitches and keeping the McLane hitters off balance, but Punxsy's bats were far from mixed up — as the tournament's host scored at least one run over the next four innings.

In the second, Punxsy scored one run with a little bit of two-out lightning after Staley retired Winebark and VanLeer on a 5-3 putout and a backwards K, respectively.

Ishman fol-lowed with a sharp single to left, though, and after Bowser moved her to second with a single up the gut, Ishman came around to score when Adamson reached base safely on an E5.

Staley stopped the bleeding at that point, forcing Powell to ground into her second 4-3 of the game, but Punxsy's lead was pushed to four runs.

In the third, Punxsy added a pair of runs with a little bit of help from McLane, as leadoff hitter Kerstin Nestel struck out but reached base safely when the third strike flew to the backstop.

Nestel was replaced on the basepaths by Atcheson on a fielder's choice that retired the lead runner, and Lunger popped to second for the second out.

But Punxsy did it with two outs again, plating a pair after Winebark walked and immediately stole second to put two in scoring position.

VanLeer drove one to center field, Atcheson trotted home, and Winebark raced home from second to push Punxsy's lead to six.

In each of the next two innings, Punxsy added one run, with a pair of singles and an error setting the tone in the fourth.

Adamson's one-out single got things started, and after reaching safely, she stole second base. Kate Horner reached on an infield single, and a late throw from second flew to the fence, allowing Adamson to score from second.

In the fifth, Lunger led off the inning with a single to right, and when McLane's Josey Pencille gave it her all, she just barely missed making an outstanding play.

The ball hopped past her, and despite a quick relay throw, Lunger scampered safely into third base before it was said and done.

Winebark drove a grounder to short — good enough to plate Lunger — and the ball was bobbled, allowing Winebark to reach safely, as well.

But Punxsy's next three hitters were retired, setting the score at 8-0 after four-and-a-half.

Horner's one-out single was Punxsy's only hit in the top of the sixth, and she ended up being stranded there, keeping the lead just where it had been entering the inning.

Maddie Sobeleski took Ishman's only free pass of the game to lead off the sixth inning, but Ishman struck out Abby Flak on a wicked change-up for the inning's first out and forced a pair of groundouts to retire the side and seal Punxsy's spot in the championship game.

"We've got the momentum on our side, and now, we can finish this thing out on Friday and head to states in State College," coach Ishman said. "These girls are just so focused and determined. I can't say it enough: This bunch of girls is just a fantastic bunch."

Punxsy set up its shot at the Section 1 championship this coming Friday against the winner of today's today's losers' bracket final with a 12-1 victory over Franklin Tuesday evening in the tournament's opening round.

Lingelfelter led the way for Punxsy, pitching a complete game and bringing a combination of heat and off-speed pitches to keep Franklin off balance and limit it to one hit — a second-inning RBI single by Katie Lawson.

Lingenfelter displayed solid control, as well, walking just three and striking out 11 of the 18 she retired.

Offensively, Ishman led the attack with a pair of doubles, and Atcheson added a double of her own.