How big of a lead is a safe lead?
That would be a good question to ask Rick Johnson and his Lady Pirates.
After Tusky Valley took a 1-0 lead on a home run in the top of the first inning, Garaway sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning for eight runs, posted five more in the second and led 13-1 in the Div. III sectional final contest at Strasburg Park on Monday, May 13.
Things got awfully hairy after that as the Lady P’s offense went into hibernation, but the deficit was too much for the Trojans to overcome, and Garaway escaped with a 13-7 win to advance to district play.
“That was tight,” Garaway head coach Rick Johnson said, “too tight. After we jumped up 13-1, we definitely relaxed a little bit. We went flat on defense, started booting the ball around and helped them out a little bit, and they capitalized, but we came back and did what we needed to do to get out of here with a win.”
After Brooke Albaugh slammed a long home run to left that cleared the scoreboard on its way to landing somewhere near the Jewett-Scio area, Lady P’s starter Kori Gutheridge settled in and got through the first inning.
While it took one pitch for the Trojans to score their first run, it took Garaway a lot more, but they really didn’t have to swing the bat as Peters couldn’t find the strike zone and walked five of the first six Garaway batters. A pitching change didn’t change a thing, and Garaway kept walking until lead-off hitter Zoe Johnson came up for the second time in the inning and went deep for an amazing 14th time this season, delivering a three-run home run that built Garaway’s lead to 8-1.
“We knew Sage had a sore arm, so we wanted to make her come to us,” Johnson said. “We put a couple of balls in play, and then they added to it.”
Tusky Valley head coach Lacey Pickonke said when walks haunt a team, there is little to do to defend that.
“We did that two weeks ago in a double-header when we had pitched one of our pitchers and the second one came in and was hurting,” Pickonke said. “Luckily we have a couple of pitchers who can come off the bench and pitch well with good defense behind them.”
Gutheridge sailed through a stunned Tusky Valley lineup in the second, and Garaway came right back in and went to work. This time it would be another big banger who would deliver when Cassy Donaldson hit a laser double to the wall in center and then Sarah Billman’s fifth tater of the year to left-center for a three-run homer that pushed the lead to 13-1.
Game over, right?
First, sophomore hurler Sydney Clements came into the game and started mowing down Garaway batters.
Second, the Trojans bats came to life, and they started spanking Gutheridge around the park pretty rudely. A laugher got to be not so funny to the Garaway faithful as a three-run fifth inning for TV made it 13-6, the big blows being an Albaugh three-run double and a Peters two-run home run. All of a sudden the ballpark took on a completely different tone.
The change forced coach Johnson to consider replacing Gutheridge with sore-armed Jocelyn Troyer, who has been the team’s ace this season.
“We had Jocelyn warming up between the fifth and sixth innings, getting loose and ready to go, but we really wanted to finish with Kori. Fortunately she pulled it back together and was able to finish the game for us.”
Tusky Valley added one more in the fourth on an Albaugh RBI single, but it could have been so much more. A base-running gaff ended a scoring threat, and then another one in the next inning turned out to be just as crucial for a team trying desperately to force its way back into the game.
Things got even worse for Garaway before they got better in the sixth inning when Tusky Valley put runners on first and second with one out. However, Garaway third baseman Emma Gee snared a vicious one-hopper that appeared to be headed into the left-field corner, stepped on third base for the force and then fired across to complete a monster double play.
“Emma struggled a bit in the field during the middle innings, but that play was a huge one and a nice play,” Johnson said.
Clements did exactly what she had been doing since entering the game in disposing of the hard-hitting Lady P’s offense in the sixth, but Gutheridge bore down and got a big strike-out and a nice catch by Donaldson on a high foul ball behind home plate for the final out.
While the Trojans dropped out of the tournament at 14-11, Pickonke was thrilled with her team for not hanging their heads, getting themselves back into a game that appeared to be a lost cause.
“It’s been an up-and-down season, and we have a lot of talent, but the last week and a half we’ve been really tight, so we are very sad that it’s over,” Pickonke said. “But we are really proud of the girls for hanging in there.”
For Garaway, Billman drove in four runs on the night, and Johnson drove in three and scored three, giving her a school-tying 42 runs this season. Chelsi Rothacher is right behind her with 40 in that category. Gutheridge helped herself with a pair of hits and two RBI while her battery mate Donaldson added two hits and an RBI. The home runs by Billman and Johnson give the Lady P’s a single-season school-record 36 on the year as they have crushed that previous record of 27.