By BRIAN CARSON
GREENSBURG—The Mifflin County softball team trudged off the field in stunned silence, their bats as quiet as their voices.
For days they had lived in anticipation of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs, believing this would be their chance to make a run. Instead, their season ended in heartbreak after a 5-0 loss to Hempfield Area in the opening round, victim of an ill-timed offensive slumber.
Mifflin County was held to just three hits and struggled to generate offense against Spartans starting pitcher Riley Miller, who kept them off-balance and grasping at air. The Huskies never awoke from their slumber. Miller pounded the strike zone and coaxed groundball after groundball.
“She’s a good pitcher. She’s not an overpowering pitcher, but she can hit her spots. She puts girls behind in the count,” Mifflin County coach Craig Weston said. “But in saying that, we hit the ball, we made contact, but we couldn’t get them through. You have to tip your hat to her, though. She battled hard. We just didn’t hit the ball hard enough to have the breaks go our way.”
The Spartans took an early lead by scoring a run in each of the first three innings. Hempfield Area tacked on two more runs in the fifth. The Huskies’ only real scoring threat came in the topof the fifth when they had runners on second and third with two outs but could not capitalize.
“We had a chance to get back in the game in the fifth but we couldn’t convert our opportunities,” Weston said.
Lauren Howard collected three hits, Maggie Howard had two, and Emily Griffith chipped in with two RBI to lead the Spartans’ attack. Sophie McCurdy led Mifflin County with two hits.
Hempfield Area took a 1-0 lead in the first when Lauren Howard reached on a single, advanced to second on a groundout, and scored on a Husky error.
The Spartans made it 2-0 in the second after Sarah Podkul cracked a knock to center, went to second on an Ella Berkebile sacrifice, and plated on a Maggie Howard RBI base hit to center.
Hempfield Area kept the pressure on by adding another run in the third for the 3-0 lead. Lauren Howard led off with an infield single. Mia Bandieramonte singled to left to put runners on second and third. A fielder’s choice by Emily Griffith brought home Lauren Howard.
Mifflin County had its best chance to get back in the game in the fifth. Falynn Reinard reached on an error, and Alexis O’Brien walked to put runners on first and second. Madison Wolfgang moved the runners over with a sac bunt, but the Huskies couldn’t take advantage of their opportunity.
“Our kids never gave up. They kept battling in the box. They played good defense,” Weston said. “As a coach, you’re proud of that. They could have folded a couple of times, but they didn’t. They kept fighting.”
The Spartans added two insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth. Lauren Howard doubled to left, and Peyton Heisler brought her home with an RBI knock to right. Heisler later plated on a single to left by Griffith.
Miller picked up the win for Hempfield Area in the circle. The junior allowed only three hits, struck out eight, and walked three. Wolfgang suffered the loss for the Huskies, surrenderingfive runs on ten hits. She struck out two and didn’t walk a batter.
The Huskies ended the season as District 6 champions with a 13-10 record. Hempfield Area, the District 7 winner, is now 19-3.
“We told the kids after the game, yeah, you’re disappointed, but there are a lot of positives too. I don’t know how many teams can say three years in a row winning three district titles, winning three play-in games, and making it to the Sweet 16 of the PIAA 6A state tournament,” Weston said. “Are we disappointed? Absolutely. But in saying that, it’s not a disappointing season. There are a lot of pluses and a lot of accomplishments for the team they should be proud of.”
Coach Weston said goodbye to six seniors playing their last game in a Husky uniform. The six are Wolfgang, Mackenna Yoder, McCurdy, Juliana Hartzler, Lorraine Miner, and Morgan Diven.
“It’s the end of our season, and I feel for the seniors. It’s the last time they’ll put on a Husky uniform. They’re graduating tonight, so I know it was a big day for them. I wish them well,” Weston said. “I hope we learn from this loss, grow from it, and come back to make another run.”
PIAA 6A Playoffs
Hempfield Area 5, Mifflin County 0
Mifflin County 000 000 0 – 0-3-1
Hempfield Area 111 020 x – 5-10-1
WP-Riley Miller CG, 3H, 0R, 8K, 3BB
LP-Madison Wolfgang CG, 10H, 5R, 2K, 0BB
MC (0): Riley Hine 0-4, Arika Henry 0-2 BB, Dakota Hershberger 1-3, Mackenna Yoder 0-3, Sophie McCurdy 2-3, Falynn Reinard 0-3, Jalee Bodtorf 0-3, Alexis O’Brien 0-1 2 BB, Madison Wolfgang 0-2. Totals: 24-0-3.
HA (5): Claire Mitchell 1-4, Lauren Howard 3-3, Peyton Heisler 1-3 RBI, Mia Bandieramonte 1-3, Emily Griffith 1-3 2RBI, Sarah Podkul 1-3, Ella Berkebile 0-2, Allie Cervola 0-3, Maggie Howard 2-3 RBI. Totals: 27-5-10.