STATE COLLEGE — With the level of competition elevated, and the tournament down to the final eight teams in the state for the Punxsy Little League softball All-Stars, the squad knew it would have to minimize errors and play at its best to earn a win against a tough West Point squad Tuesday afternoon in the tournament's opening game. Unfortunately for Punxsy, though, four errors helped West Point score six runs over two separate innings, and Punxsy fell 9-2 in the opening round.
"It was a rough one," Punxsy head coach Mike Ishman said after the game. "We made a few mistakes in the field; I mean, they had more runs than hits. We were just a little slow getting the ball out of our gloves, and they were definitely a speedy team. Hats off to them, because they played some small ball when they had to, and they just executed better than we did. And it ended up showing on the scoreboard."
One strong point that stood out for Punxsy despite the final result was the diverse pitching staff and its ability to confuse the West Point hitters and keep them off guard.
Alli Ishman started the game, and despite a line that showed five runs allowed in the second inning, none of those runs was earned, and she allowed just three hits.
Morgan Adamson came on in relief in the third, due to the crammed schedule with one game each day limiting the number of innings a player can work. She showed great success, allowing just one unearned run on one hit over two innings and striking out two.
And with Adamson coming out after the fourth — for the same reason Ishman was lifted — Kylee Lingenfelter pitched a solid two innings, as well, allowing three runs on three hits.
"All three of those girls — Kylee, Alli and Morgan — they each pitched two solid innings for us," coach Ishman said. "We knew we had that on the bench all year long, and I really commend them for their efforts today. We kind of have a plan with how we're going to use them depending on the score after the first two innings going forward. But we have to conserve pitching with the possibility of playing back-to-back-to-back days. It's a little change of strategy for us after having days off in between our games earlier in the tournament. But we'll work with what we have and see what we can do."
Punxsy had the advantage of being the home team, and it managed to keep the edge by hanging a zero in the top of the first.
West Point threatened a bit with the help of one hit and a Punxsy error, but Punxsy starter Ishman bore down to keep the visitors off the board.
Angela DiOrio led off the inning by grounding to short, where Punxsy's Alli Lunger caught a two-hopper and threw on to first for one out.
West Point No. 2 hitter Morgan Ryan reached at the hands of a bobbled ball at third, beating out the throw, but Punxsy answered with another out on a well-played deep fly to left that was tracked by Jordyn Powell.
Meadow Uncapher gave West Point its first hit on an infield bleeder, and when nobody was covering, both runners ended up moving up an extra 60 feet.
Ishman got out of the jam, though, by fanning West Point's No. 5 hitter Olivia Glosner on a change up to end the inning and keep it scoreless.
Punxsy also threatened against West Point starter Ryan in the home half, managing two hits and a walk, but West Point kept the game scoreless after one with some solid defensive play.
Tessa Winebark reached base for Punxsy to lead things off on a catcher's interference call when her bat hit the catcher's glove as she followed through.
No. 2 hitter Morgan VanLeer popped out on a towering hit to second for the first out, but Lunger reached on a walk to put a pair on.
Ishman blooped a single just out of DiOrio's reach at second, but when Winebark rounded third too widely, she was caught in a rundown and retired at third for the second out.
Ryan went to work to take the third out on her own with a high heat K to Morgan Adamson, and the game went to the second inning scoreless.
The game wouldn't remain scoreless for long, though, as West Point scored five in the second on just two hits with the assistance of three Punxsy fielding errors.
Kendall Belak was the first to benefit from a Punxsy error when her hit to third was bobbled, allowing her to reach safely.
After Ishman got Felicity Orndoff to pop to MacKenzie Atcheson at third, another hit skipped through the infield, allowing Megan Monzo to reach safely and putting a pair on.
Kelsey Tobin tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but she did one better when Punxsy tried to get the lead runner and everyone was safe, loading the bases.
DiOrio followed by breaking the tie with an RBI single up the middle, and Ryan heaped another pair on with a two-RBI double to left-center.
Morgan Schweizer bled one off the end of her bat that Ishman threw on to first for a putout, but DiOrio sprinted home on the throw to make it 4-0 West Point.
A third error, this time a mishandled throw at first, allowed Uncapher to reach safely and Ryan to score West Point's fifth run.
Punxsy managed to put up its first run in the bottom of the frame after a leadoff single by Jordyn Powell got things going.
Powell's chopper weaved between the West Point defense, and after she reached safely, she stole second to put herself in scoring position.
She advanced to third on a wild pitch with Kerstin Nestel in the box, but Nestel was set down by Ryan for one out.
With just one down, Atcheson laid down a sneaky squeeze bunt, and when she was retired at first, Powell slid safely into home for Punxsy's first run.
Adamson came on to relieve Ishman in the third, with new pitching limitations on the players with no days rest between starts, and she impressed by setting West Point down in order on a 4-3 putout, a pop up to Bowser at first and a strikeout.
Punxsy also saw a different pitcher in the third with Uncapher relieving Ryan, and despite a two-out single by Lunger, Punxsy managed no runs.
West Point added one to its total in the fourth off Adamson, an unearned run, with DiOrio's one-out single and steal of second setting it up.
Ryan flew out to deep right, allowing DiOrio to tag, but Ishman's throw to third skipped away and allowed DiOrio to score.
Punxsy got that one run back in the bottom of the fourth, cutting the lead back to four at 6-2.
Kate Horner started it with a one-out single, and she stole second to put herself in scoring position.
Uncapher struck out pinch hitter Kim Shoemaker for the inning's second out, but a West Point error on a ball struck by Kylee Lingenfelter allowed Horner to score from second.
New pitchers entered again in the fifth — Lingenfelter for Punxsy and Orndoff for West Point — and both made quick work of their opponents.
Lingenfelter showed off her arm by setting West Point down in order with the help of Winebark gunning down Glosner trying to steal second.
And Ordorff answered by allowing just one hit in the bottom of the fifth — an infield single to VanLeer. VanLeer moved around to third on a 6-3 putout that barely beat Lunger to the bag, but she was stranded there.
West Point added three insurance runs in the top of the sixth, setting the score at 9-2 and putting it out of reach for Punxsy.
Monzo and DiOrio reached on free passes on a walk and a hit batsman, respectively, and each moved up on a passed ball.
Ryan plated the inning's first run with an RBI single to right, and Schweizer scored DiOrio on a groundout.
Uncapher rounded out the West Point scoring with an RBI single up the middle to drive home Ryan, and the final score was set.
Punxsy put up a fight in the bottom of the sixth, but couldn't manage a base-runner. Adamson grounded out on a nice unassisted play by the first baseman, Horner popped out to the third baseman, and Shoemaker went down swinging and was put out 2-3 after the ball skipped in the dirt.
After the game, coach Ishman and his staff spoke with the girls about bouncing back and not hanging their heads. After all, Punxsy is still very alive in the tournament, as the top two advance out of each pool.
"I told them they have two more games left," he said. "We lost once to DuBois in districts to fall into the losers' bracket and fought our way back. This is the same way. If they want to play on Friday, they have to win the next two. We'll get them motivated, and maybe it was some of the starry-eyed gaze with it being their first time on this stage. But we'll give it our best tomorrow night and see what happens."
Punxsy still has the chance to pick up a pair of wins, as it takes on Mifflin County tonight at 8 p.m. and Minersville Thursday at 3 p.m.