SLIPPERY ROCK — The mountain was a little too tall to climb for the Laurel High softball team on Thursday.
Union City scored three runs in the top of the 10th and held on for a 6-5 PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal win at Slippery Rock University on Thursday.
The loss ends the Lady Spartans’ season at 18-2.
“I think the nerves got us there. That was a pressure situation,” Laurel coach Frank Duddy said. “I would have liked to have had first crack at that, but what are you going to do? We made a nice comeback. We just couldn’t get it finished.”
The Lady Bears (20-1) advance to the PIAA semifinals and will clash with Ligonier Valley (21-2). The teams will collide Monday at a time and site to be determined.
“You don’t think it’s ever enough against Laurel,” Union coach Jerry Van Zandt said of the three runs his team scored in the 10th. “I know every Laurel hitter is up there battling.
“I was happy to have three runs, but did I think it was enough? I was hoping so.”
Starting in the 10th inning, the player that made the last out in the previous inning, starts the next inning on second base with no outs.
Cathryn Reynolds stood on second to start the Lady Bears’ 10th frame. Eliza Reynolds hit a grounder to shortstop Kaylee Withrow that she didn’t field cleanly, allowing Eliza Reynolds to reach on an error. Cathryn Reynolds remained on second. Sydney Gilbert put down a sacrifice bunt, pushing the runners to second and third with one out.
Cyaira Zielinski hit a liner to third base that Autumn Boyd snared for the second out. It appeared reliever Grace Kissick was going to escape any damage.
Kissick, though, uncorked a wild pitch over Bekah Valenti’s head with Lucy Higley batting to put the Lady Bears up 4-3. Higley delivered a triple that scored Eliza Reynolds for a 5-3 margin.
Jordyn Brozell capped off the 10th with a run-scoring double and a 6-3 lead.
Abby Tingley went back out to the circle in search of three outs to send Union City to the semifinals. Laurel wasn’t going to make it easy on her, though.
“She’s so calm and cool (in the circle),” Van Zandt said. “You can count on her. You know she’s not going to walk anybody.”
Withrow opened the bottom of the 10th on second base. Tingley’s first offering in the 10th hit Boyd to put runners on first and second.
Kissick then singled to cut the deficit to 6-4. Abbie Miles hit a comebacker to Tingley in the circle. She threw to third to erase the lead runner. However, Higley’s throw from third across the diamond sailed down the first-base line.
Miles and Kissick were on second and third, respectively with one out. Frankie Duddy delivered a sacrifice fly to left to cut the deficit to 6-5. That was as close as Laurel would get, as Tingley got Eva Kuth to strike out swinging to end the game.
“We needed one to hit the grass out there,” Frank Duddy said. “Frankie was red hot today. She was hitting the ball hard. She may have only had one hit, but she was hitting it on the button. I was so confident she was going to shoot a gap.”
A promising season came to a sudden, tearful end for the Lady Spartans.
“There was some tears,” Frank Duddy said. “The younger ones don’t know what they don’t know.
“To make it this far, that’s a real accomplishment, and they made it look easy. I try to remind them all the time, it’s not that easy. It’s hard to do what they did this year.”
Laurel struck first, plating two runs in the bottom of the third with two runs. Addie Deal doubled to score the first run and Boyd added another double, that landed just fair down the right-field line for a 2-0 buffer.
The Lady Spartans finished with 10 hits total. Withrow, Deal and Boyd had two hits apiece.
“It’s confidence,” Frank Duddy said of the early runs. “We knew we were going to hit. We’ve been hitting all year.
“We didn’t see anything today that told us we weren’t going to hit. I thought we did a nice job hitting against (Tingley). We put the ball in play and got a lot of hits off her.”
Boyd started in the circle and she sailed through the first five innings. Union City tied the game at 2 in the sixth and took a 3-2 lead in the seventh.
Boyd pitched seven innings before getting pulled for Kissick. Boyd took over at third for Kissick, and Kissick moved to the circle.
Boyd gave up seven hits and three runs — two earned — with no walks and 10 strikeouts. Her first 11 pitches of the game went for strikes.
“She came out strong. She was in a groove,” Frank Duddy said of Boyd. “This is a good team. They started hitting and they started putting the bat on the ball. We did well for the longest time.”
Kissick (5-1) pitched three innings, giving up three hits and three runs — one earned — with no walks and three strikeouts.
“Once we went to extra innings, we decided that Autumn was gassed,” Frank Duddy said. “It’s hot out here, it’s humid. She was a little bit gassed so we decided to go to the bullpen with Gracie.
“Gracie didn’t do bad either. She went right at them. We just came up a little bit short. That’s a good team over there.”
Van Zandt was a little worried with the pitching change.
“It concerned me a little bit because I felt we started to get into a rhythm,” he said. “I knew they had two good pitchers. I was glad to see my girls make the adjustment.”
There almost wasn’t a need for the pitching change. Trailing 3-2, the Lady Spartans’ Addie Deal dug in at the plate. With the count 1-2, Deal, a freshman lefty, hit a rocket over the right-field wall to knot the count at 3 and force extra innings.
“How is that for drama?,” Frank Duddy said. “You’re down to your last strike of the season and she almost hits a bus. She was due. There’s a lot more of this success waiting for her. She’s going to be just fine.”
Deal nearly had another clutch moment in the ninth that would have sent the Lady Spartans home a potential winner. Withrow singled with two outs and Deal hit a shot that landed just inches foul. Withrow was around second and headed for third, possibly on her way to score the winning run as the umpire motioned and yelled foul ball.
Laurel made four errors.
Frankie Duddy, the coach’s daughter, and Withrow are the lone seniors departing the Lady Spartans’ roster.
“Losing Frankie and Kaylee, those are two team leaders and they are both good offensively,” Frank Duddy said. “We lose a lot of leadership.
“Since their freshman season, this team is 51-9 with three WPIAL championships. All they know is WPIAL titles. As far as that goes, you can’t ask for much more than that. It would have been nice to get a little icing on the cake this year for those girls, but we came up a little bit short.”