Punxsy plays small ball, uses quality defense to edge Altoona

PUNXSUTAWNEY — When Punxsy senior Ashley Barenchik rounded first base Thursday during the fifth inning of a tie game with Altoona, she wasn't sure if she would make it to second.

Barenchik compensated for what ended up being an extremely close play at second base by sliding head first, and that extra effort led to her being safe for the double.

Barenchik's determination to get into scoring position led to her scoring the go-ahead run later that inning to help the Lady Chucks improve to 3-0 with a 5-4 victory Thursday over Altoona.

Prior to Barenchik's double, Altoona starting pitcher Kristie Mulhollem threw a deceiving change-up that left Barenchik swinging and missing. Soon thereafter, Barenchik sat on another change-up and drove it into right field.

"She threw me a change-up the second or third pitch, and I whiffed it," Barenchik said. "I knew she was going to throw me another one, so I knew it was coming and to wait on it. Fair enough, she did throw me one."

As she hustled to second for the double, she had doubts about whether she'd be safe.

"I was so scared that I was not going to make it," she said. "But I had confidence in myself, though."

Hannah Neal followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved Barenchik to third, and Taylor Powell's RBI grounder brought home Punxsy's fifth and final run.

That's all the help that Shawnna Crago needed to finish off Altoona (1-1). Crago, who replaced starting pitcher Randa Depp in the third inning, threw 4 2/3-innings of scoreless ball while allowing just two hits.

Crago retired Altoona's final five batters in order to earn the victory, but with just three strikeouts in the game, it was Punxsy's defense that made the difference.

Powell in left field and Kristen Fedder at first base made impressive snags earlier in the game, and Tia Davis' running catch at her ankles with two runners on during the sixth inning preserved the lead. Barenchik also made a nice scoop at short to start Altoona's 1-2-3 final inning.

"We made a lot of good defensive plays out there. Tia's play in right field was key, and Ashley's play in the seventh inning (helped)," Punxsy manager Alan Pifer said. "We did the little things that we had to — moving runners and getting hits at the right time. They didn't beat themselves. We had to beat them."

Pifer expected Thursday's game against Altoona to be a tight one. After the Lady Chucks scored three runs in the first inning and one in the second, Altoona climbed back into the game with a pair of runs during each of the second and third innings.

All four of Altoona's runs were scored off Depp, who allowed three earned runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts during 2 1/3-innings. Altoona totaled four hits in the second inning and scored two more runs during the third thanks to a pair of walks.

"Randa struggled a little early on. f it wasn't for that, I might have stuck with her early on," Pifer said. "She was having trouble with a couple of her pitches, and the ones that were on the plate, they were driving."

In came Crago, who saw only one base runner reach third during the innings she started after she inherited Depp's runners in the third inning.

Even though Crago was the more impressive pitcher Thursday, Pifer said that he still has faith in Depp.

"I don't know if I have a clear No. 1 at this point. I have confidence in both of those girls," he said. "They both bring different things to the table. They both have different ways that they attack the pitcher."

Offensively, Barenchik, Jenna Reitz and Johnna Depp each had two-hit games. Reitz's two-run single down the third-base line scored Powell and Crago during the first inning, and Johnna Depp's single brought home Reitz one batter later.

Davis reached on an error and scored on Barenchik's two-out RBI double to left field in the second inning.

Though the current forecast predicts a 90 percent chance of rain, Punxsy's next game is scheduled for noon Saturday against Karns City.