PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” Momentum can be a strong driving force, because momentum can lead to confidence. And confidence pushes a team to play at its best. Sunday afternoon in Punxsutawney, Punxsy's 11- and 12-year-old All-Star softball team turned its momentum from a win-or-go-home victory over DuBois Friday into a District X championship with a 5-4, eight-inning victory over DuBois.
"That game was just a battle from the very beginning," Punxsy head coach Mike Ishman said after the game. "DuBois is just one tough team. No matter what happens, you can expect them to play tough. And they did battle back."
The win came with some late fireworks, as Punxsy had to score one in the seventh inning to force a second extra inning, and the home squad rebounded in walk-off fashion.
The late-inning magic started in the seventh after DuBois scored one run on a hit batsman and a single by Kacie Means.
Needing one run to tie it, Punxsy got just that to extend the game to the eighth.
Punxsy's Morgan VanLeer sparked the rally by battling a full count for a leadoff walk.
Alli Ishman followed with a single to put two on base, and Danielle Bowser grounded into a fielder's choice to trade places with Ishman and put runners on the corners.
Morgan Adamson came up next and belted one down the third base line. DuBois cleanly fielded the ball, but some indecision on where to throw allowed both Adamson to reach first and VanLeer to score, tying the game at four runs each.
Punxsy fought off a two-out double by Lexi Ray off Ishman to hang a necessary zero in the top of the eighth, and the home squad came in firing in the bottom half.
The eighth-inning magic started with a costly leadoff walk to Kylee Llingenfelter, and when Alli Lunger laid down a sacrifice bunt toward third, she ended up reaching safely for an infield single.
With two outs, Winebark entered the box, and she delivered with a single over the second baseman's head. The hit allowed Kerstin Nestel â€”Â a special pinch runner for Lingenfelter â€”Â to round third and cruise home to give Punxsy the walk-off win.
"Our girls hung in there," coach Ishman said. "When they scored two to tie it in the sixth, they didn't get rattled. Their maturity for 11- and 12-year-olds â€” and that clutch hit by Tessa â€” it's just incredible."
With the District X championship in its name, Punxsy advances to the sectional tournament â€” a tournament Punxsy was already slated to host â€” and will open play against Franklin Tuesday evening.
Before the late rally by DuBois tied it, Punxsy was in good shape with a 3-1 lead for the majority of the game.
Punxsy's first run came in the bottom of the first inning, after Ishman hung a zero by setting DuBois down in order.
DuBois starter Katelyn Bender allowed just one hit, but coupled with an error by the left fielder, it was enough for the home squad to crack the scoreboard.
Bender managed to force leadoff hitter Tessa Winebark into a 6-3 putout before No. 2 hitter VanLeer reached safely on the fielding blunder in left.
Ishman popped out to short for the second out, but while she was in the box, VanLeer advanced to third with a stolen base and a passed ball.
Cleanup hitter Danielle Bowser did the job with two outs for Punxsy, though, coming through with a two-out RBI single.
Bender struck out Morgan Adamson to end the inning, but the damage was already done.
The visitors went down in order a second time in the second frame, with Bender and Lexi Ray grounding out 6-3 to sandwich a pop out to Ishman between them.
Punxsy's Nestel made some noise in the bottom of the inning with a one-out single, but she was stranded at second after swiping it on a second pitch.
DuBois tied the game with one run in the third before No. 9 hitter Danessa Allison was gunned down at the plate trying to score to end the inning.
DuBois' run came on an RBI single by Means, plating Rachel Gildersleeve, who had reached on a leadoff single.
Punxsy answered right back in the home half with a two-spot, though, to open a 3-1 lead.
Winebark got things rolling in the inning with a leadoff double, and VanLeer reached safely when she was hit by a pitch.
With two on, Ishman helped her own cause in a big way, belting a two-RBI triple to score both Winebark and VanLeer.
Bowser reached on an error to put two on again, but Bender retired the next three she faced to work out of the jam.
Ishman allowed one hit in the fourth â€”Â a one-out single to Bener â€”Â but a pair of groundouts stranded Bender at second and ended the inning.
Punxsy couldn't capitalize on the momentum, though, as Lingenfelter, Lunger and Winebark were retired 1-2-3.
The quick inning trend continued with both pitchers facing the minimum number of opponents in the fifth before DuBois rallied for its pair of runs in the top of the sixth to tie it at three.
The inning started with singles by Sarah Snyder and Means, and a pair of RBI singles by Laura Fatula and Ray capped it.
Punxsy was held scoreless in the bottom of the sixth despite three singles â€” one each by Adamson, Horner and Lingenfelter â€” on a pair of nice fielder's choice plays to retire the lead runners at home by the DuBois defense.
The extra innings belonged to Punxsy, though, and the home squad advanced to the tournament on its own home field.
"I couldn't be happier about winning the district title," coach Ishman said, wrapping up his thoughts. "These girls have worked their tails off all the way through Little League, and they definitely deserve it."View more articles in: