Strong arms, Phillips' blast power Punxsy to win

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Although the scoreboard didn't necessarily reflect it at the end of the game, the Lady Chucks were engaged in a solid pitching dual on both sides against the Hollidays-burg Lady Tide Monday in Punxsutawney. But Punxsy scored four sixth-inning insurance runs to open the game up and pick up a 6-1 victory.

And while Punxsy head coach Alan Pifer said he wasn't completely thrilled with every aspect of the performance, he was still content to walk away with a victory.

"You hate to say a couple-day layoff hurts you, but I think it did in this case. And it showed," he said. "We were a bit lethargic. We weren't in there and ready to play early on. We weren't swinging the bat like we should have been. We definitely weren't executing our short game like I know we are capable of. So, there are some things to work on, because the next couple teams we have coming up, DuBois (Wednesday) and State College (Friday), are top-notch teams, and we have to be on top of our game to beat them. But the bottom line is, a win is a win, and we're still happy to get one here."

Punxsy's starting pitcher, Ashley Bacha, battled the Lady Tide's Alyssa Pheasant for the first five-plus innings to earn the win. Bacha allowed eight hits, but kept Hollidaysburg off the scoreboard until it eked out its first run in the sixth inning. She also walked two and struck out two.

Bacha wasn't actually on the mound when the Lady Tide run crossed the plate, as she had turned the ball over to relief pitcher Randa Depp. The runner was still Bacha's, though, and Depp pitched 1 2/3-innings of no-hit, shutout softball to save the game.

"I thought Ashley pitched pretty well," Pifer said. "She seemed to start getting tired there near the end, so we made the change. But she kept us in the game until we got our bats going. And on top of that, Randa came in to throw some strikes and save the game for us. That's the nice thing about having that one-two punch. They're both good quality pitchers, and we can turn to either of them any time we need to."

Hollidaysburg threatened right out of the gates, with leadoff hitter Marissa Rosensteel reaching base on an infield single and moving to second on a passed ball with no outs.

Bacha battled back, though, to strike out the No. 2 hitter and force No. 3 hitter Hannah Mercer to fly out to left.

The clean-up hitter, Taylor Herr, reached base on a single, and it looked as if Rosensteel might score, but shortstop Chelsea Engeholm gunned her out on a perfect throw to catcher Johnna Depp to end the threat.

Punxsy's offense got off to a slow start against Pheasant, who held the Lady Chucks hitless for the first three innings.

Ashley Walls was Punxsy's only baserunner in the first inning, picking up one of her four walks on the afternoon. But after stealing second and moving to third on a deep fly ball to right field by Sydney Phillips, Walls was stranded at third when the inning ended on a grounder to the second baseman.

Pheasant led off the visitors' half of the second with a single, but she was stranded on second after Bacha set down the next three hitters in order.

The Lady Chucks were hitless in the second inning, as well, but that didn't stop them from managing a run against Pheasant.

Janie Depp-Hutchinson hit a sharp ground ball to the shortstop, who bobbled it, giving Depp-Hutchinson time to reach first.

And while Pheasant retired the next three Punxsy hitters in order, mirroring the top half of the inning for Bacha, a passed ball and a pair of wild pitches — including one with two outs — allowed Depp-Hutchinson to score.

"You get into a tight game or something, and you have to take some chances and hope they pay off," Pifer said of Punxsy's aggressive nature on the base paths. "If your team's not hitting, and you manage to get someone on third base, you have to roll the dice. That's where the coach gets criticized or critiqued sometimes, but that goes with the territory. Sometimes, you make the right decision, and sometimes you don't. But you definitely have to take some chances in tight games."

Hollidaysburg's Kaylee Beaudoin led off the third inning with an infield single, but Johnna Depp threw her out attempting to steal second.

After another out, Krista Shay and Mercer reached on back-to-back sharp singles right back up the middle, but Bacha managed to work out of the jam again, forcing Herr into an inning-ending come-backer.

Walls was again Punxsy's only baserunner in the home half of the third, reaching on a walk with two outs, but she was caught stealing to end the inning with Phillips at the plate.

Bacha made quick work of the Lady Tide in the fourth inning, and Phillips returned to the plate for her at-bat to lead off the fourth, making the most of her trip to the plate by driving one deep past the left-field fence — into the wind.

"She crushed that ball," Pifer said with a smile. "If the wind weren't blowing in, I can only imagine where that ball would have landed. We've seen that in practices and in some of the scrimmages. She has some kind of pop. She's not a big girl, but she can smoke that ball when she gets ahold of it."

Phillips' solo home run would prove to be the game-winning run in the end, but it gave Punxsy a 2-0 lead in the fourth.

Bacha set down the next six Hollidaysburg hitters in order with a bit of help from second baseman Alex Magill.

The Lady Tide's Payton Civils — who led off the fifth — was the only batter to reach base, and Magill held a tag on an attempted pickoff play to retire her.

The initial throw down to first — after an attempted sacrifice bunt was missed — was too late to get Civils. But Magill held the tag, and as Civils stood up, her foot came off the bag, and she was called out.

In the top of the sixth, Hollidaysburg picked up its only run after Bacha allowed her first walk to leadoff hitter Shay.

After a hard-hit liner down the third baseline was snagged by Depp-Hutchinson, a single by Herr and a walk by Pheasant loaded the bases.

It was then that Pifer decided to turn to Randa Depp.

Depp retired the first two batters she faced to retire the side, but on the first, a groundout to first by Biz Carter, Shay scored.

With the lead cut to one, Punxsy's offense went to work to protect it, batting around in the sixth and scoring four runs on five hits — after notching just two hits over the first five innings combined.

Johnna Depp led off the inning with a double to right, and she scored on a single by Depp-Hutchinson to right-center.

Tori Martin followed with a single, and after a sacrifice bunt by Lauren Ball moved pinch runner Emily Horner and Martin to third and second, respectively, Engeholm picked up a pair of RBIs with a double to right-center.

Possessing a 6-1 lead, Randa Depp quickly went to work in the top of the seventh.

She allowed just one baserunner — a two-out walk to Rosensteel — but struck out Shay to end the game and seal the Lady Chucks' 6-1 victory.

The Lady Chucks will return to action against a solid Lady Beavers team Wednesday in DuBois.