'Comeback Kids': Minor SB All-Stars stay the course

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It was a pitchers' duel in Punxsutawney on Wednesday evening, and if it wasn't for some late action by the Punxsy's bats in the 9- and 10-year-old softball All-Stars game, St. Marys' Brianna Grotzinger would have come out on top. But thanks to a three-run fifth, Punxsy's Kendal Johnston, who pitched a complete game for the home team, earned the win in the 3-1 contest.

After the game, Punxsy head coach Brad Gigliotti was especially proud of his team's resiliency, as the players battled right to the end.

"It's funny, one of the girls on my regular season team shouted at the end, 'We're the comeback kids!'" Gigliotti said. "We did that a lot during the regular season, and that's what we are trying to teach the girls — to never give up and to keep battling."

The hits were few and far between in the game, with both starting pitchers — Johnston and Grotzinger — battling it out.

In the top of the first, Johnston set the side down in order with a little bit of help from her defense.

Johnston struck out the first and third batters she faced. Grotzinger helped her own cause with a walk and she advanced to third with some crafty base running, but a solid defensive play mowed her down as she was trying to score and kept the game scoreless.

Grotzinger struck out three of four hitters she faced in the first, with the only blemish being a walk to her circle counterpart Johnston, who was left stranded on first.

In the second, St. Marys was retired quickly on a 4-3 putout and a pair of Johnston strikeouts, and Grotzinger responded with a 1-2-3 inning of her own, setting down two Punxsy hitters on strikeouts. She also had a bit of help from her catcher, Allison Schlimm, who mowed down Abbi Riskus, who had walked, when she tried to steal second.

In the top of the third, St. Marys cracked the scoreboard despite Johnston not allowing a hit.

The leadoff hitter, Kianna Ginther, was struck by a pitch to put a runner on, and after she stole second and third, she scored on a passed ball while Johnston was striking out three opposing hitters.

Despite a two-out walk by Holly Hartman in the third inning, Punxsy was unable to answer, and St. Marys clung to a 1-0 edge.

In the fourth, St. Marys threatened again after Taylor Newton reached on a walk and advanced around to third base with her own solid base running.

With two outs, though, Newton tried to score on a passed ball, and Johnston covered in plenty of time, with Abby Gigliotti provid-
ing the perfect throw to catch Newton stealing and retire the side.

"I'm going to give a shoutout to both catchers," coach Gigliotti said. "They shut down our running game, and they had a few opportunities that we stopped that really made a difference."

Punxsy mustered two base runners in the fourth, with Johnston reaching on her second walk and Elliot Ferrent walking, as well.

The pair moved into scoring position on a passed ball, but an attempted squeeze bunt saw a nice unassisted putout by the first baseman — Newton — who then fired to second to turn a double play, catching the runner trying to hustle back into the bag.

Any momentum that St. Marys gained from the defensive gem, though, was thwarted by Johnston striking out two of the three batters she faced and another fine 2-1 putout to retire Newton, who had walked, trying to score again.

Punxsy rode the momentum of this defensive play, though, and turned it into some offense in the bottom of the fifth.

Grace Hall got things started with a one-out single, and on a bunt single by Brianna Hoover, Hall moved to third. Hoover also took second on the throw across the diamond. Allie Meko entered as a special pinch runner for Hall, but she was retired at home for the second out of the inning.

Punxsy had a bit of two-out lightning in the bats, though — probably stored up from the thunderstorm that had delayed the game earlier in the night.

Meko, taking her turn at the plate, now, walked in Hartman's place, and Sarah Weaver came through with a clutch two-RBI single to score Hoover and Meko.

Punxsy's scoring wasn't done, as Johnston added an insurance run to her cushion with a single of her own before St. Marys retired the side.

"The bats came alive, and that certainly helped," coach Gigliotti said. "We were up against a great pitcher and a great team, so we had lots up against us. But Kendal is great too, and she pitched well for us and kept us in there until the bats came alive."

Throwing with a bit more energy coming off the big inning, Johnston breezed through the three St. Marys hitters she saw in the sixth, setting them down in order to retire the side and give Punxsy the top seed heading into the finals of the tournament.

"We're the top seed, and historically, that means we'll have a home game Monday, which is huge," Gigliotti said. "We'll play the winner of St. Marys and Warren, and both are great teams, but we'll be prepared for another battle."

Punxsy's next game will be Monday at 6 p.m.