· Inter-Valley Conference ·

Lady P’s and Tigers create a ‘Must See TV’ extra inning classic

Allison Luneborg is welcomed home by teammates after one of her two home runs

Back in the days of the 1990s, NBC had a Thursday night line-up of television that was considered “Must See TV.” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “The Cosby Show” were all huge hits, all were the kinds of TV spectacles that people had to see.

On Monday, March 27 in Strasburg, “Must See TV” was back in full force, on Big Time Sports with Charlie Jones.

In one of the most well–played, exciting games to come along in a while, the Strasburg Tigers hosted the Garaway Pirates in a thrill ride that lasted quite a bit longer than your average half-hour comedy show. In the end, Lady Pirate pitcher Allison Luneborg took a bow as the starring character in what was a 2-1 Garaway win in nine innings that left the crowd breathless. All that was left undone was for the many stars in this incredible showcase to come out and take a bow for the appreciative audience.

Both long-time coaches even noted that the game was something worthy of being called an instant classic.

“That was a game made for television,” said Strasburg’s Bud Weisgarger, who has seen his fair share of classic games over his long and illustrious career. “It was a great game that was worthy of being on TV. We played hard, and I would have rather won, but it was a great game.”

“In 11 years of coaching, considering the atmosphere and the team we were playing, this was the most exciting game I’ve been part of,” said Garaway coach Dennis Koshmider. “Both teams came up with big plays, big hits, and you couldn’t ask for more. This was an instant classic.”

The game featured two outstanding mound efforts from Luneborg and Strasburg star Hannah Duff. Both exhibited pinpoint control, neither walking anyone. Luneborg struck out 10, Duff whiffed nine. Both teams showcased some excellent defense.

The only difference in a game starved of hits in an extra-inning climactic game was Luneborg’s presence, not on the mound, but at the dish where she crushed a home run in the fourth inning to give Garaway a 1-0 lead. Luneborg then ended the scoring by hammering a towering shot over the fence in left-center for the game-winner.

Duff was in complete command through three innings, but she got a huge helping hand when Marli Willoughby made a sensational running catch on Hannah Halstead’s shot to the gap in left-center to start the fourth inning. But Duff, who made few mistakes, made one to Luneborg, who delivered the game’s first run by depositing the ball over the wall in left for a 1-0 Garaway lead.

Luneborg remained in control, and was looking to complete a shut-out, but Strasburg changed that plan in the bottom of the sixth inning. With two out, Taeshauna Alleshouse poked a single to left field. Duff followed with a line drive single to left, and Zoey Thomas came through with the biggest hit of the night for Strasburg, a double to the left field fence, which plated a run and moved runners to second and third. With the Tigers threatening to take the lead, Garaway shortstop Zoe Johnson made the play of the night when she made a diving catch on a little pop fly in no-man’s land between the mound and second base, the diving catch preserving the 1-1 tie.

Then came three innings of tense ball that featured a lot of great pitching, with neither team scoring but both teams mounting attacks by putting runners in scoring position. Garaway’s Halstead, Luneborg and Kaitlyn Stress all hit deep fly balls in the top of the seventh, but the Tigers’ defense was up to the task with Willoughby catching Luneborg’s colossal shot with her back up against the fence in center.

In Strasburg’s seventh, the Tigers had the winning run on second with two outs, and Weisgarber tried to sneak an opportunity to end it by having his runner steal third, but Garaway’s Halstead received the pitch and fired a pea to Johnson who was covering third, and Johnson did a nice job of blocking the base and applying the tag for the inning-ending out.

Neither team scored in the eighth, but Garaway came within inches of ending it. After Sierra Slentz doubled to left, pinch-hitter Amber Monigold launched a huge fly ball down the left field line that had plenty of distance to go yard but sailed inches foul. Duff then struck her out to end the inning.

The “Must Watch TV” was getting great ratings, but it was about to get even more enticing, as Luneborg would crank up the drama and change things for good in the ninth. With one out, Halstead again roped a shot, this one down the right-field line. However, Thomas made a gorgeous running catch, setting the table for Luneborg’s heroics. She hit a moon shot that was gone the moment it left the bat, the ball sailing well over the wall.

All that was left was for Luneborg to take the mound and complete her masterpiece of a night. She did so, working a three-up, three-down ninth, thanks to a great running catch in right-center by center-fielder Chelsi Rothacher.

“We had heard that (Straburg) hadn’t looked that good in scrimmages, but I told the girls, don’t even pay attention to that, because they were gunning for us because we took away a league title that they held for year after year after year,’” Koshmider said. “They want that title back, and they brought it to us.”

As for Luneborg, Koshmider said she is living up to her East District Player of the Year honor from last season. “Everything is clicking for her right now,” Koshmider said of Luneborg. “If Willoughy isn’t standing at the fence, she has a three home-run night.”

Both teams played the game the way it was meant to be played. There were no errors, no walks, and no mental mistakes. It was a perfect game to televise because it could well serve as a how-to instructional game for youngsters.

“That was really exciting,” Luneborg said following the game. She said she had a pretty good idea that her towering shot in the ninth was leaving the yard, but all she could do was sing the praises of her pitching counterpart. “Hannah Duff is a great pitcher,” Luneborg said. “You even hate to see someone lose a game like that.” Luneborg said that she couldn’t recall ever putting together a huge game like this, especially under these tight conditions. “Any time you can help your team it feels good, and I can not give enough credit to my defense. They were amazing. That is a pitcher’s best friend.”

Considering that the Garaway versus Strasburg softball game came only three games into the regular season, it certainly was a key contest with the two league favorites trying to take the early edge in the race for the Inter-Valley Conference crown, which Garaway wrestled away from Strasburg’s stronghold last season.

Even while the two teams will have what will probably be a “Must See TV” opportunity in round two in Sugarcreek, Weisgarber threw out these words of wisdom just in case anyone wanted to jump the gun in crowning a champion with the league exactly one day old. “Sandy Valley still sits in the middle waiting for everybody,” Weisgarber said. “It’s a long season.”

If every game in a long season is as good as this one, “Must See TV” should have plenty of outstanding shows to air over the next two months.

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