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PIAA SOFTBALL: Northwestern Lehigh's five-run sixth sinks Valley View

ESPY — In a pitchers’ duel, it was a matter of which team’s offense could break through first.

Unfortunately for Valley View, it was Northwestern Lehigh’s.

The Tigers put together a two-out, five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat the Cougars, 6-1, in the PIAA Class 4A softball quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Central Columbia High School’s First Keystone Community Bank Field.

It is the second year in a row Northwestern Lehigh ended Valley View’s season; it won, 3-2, in the first round last year. The District 11 runner-up advances to Monday’s semifinals against District 11 and defending state champion Blue Mountain, a 13-3 winner in six innings over District 1 champion Pope John Paul II.

The Cougars (21-4) were held in check by sophomore pitcher Emma Freeman, who tossed a four-hitter with two walks and six strikeouts. She retired 11 of the final 12 batters she faced.

“We had to make adjustments and we didn’t make the adjustments,” Valley View coach Mia Wascura said. “We weren’t laying off that rise ball. But the moral of the story was they outhit us, they outfielded us and in turn they outplayed us.”

With the score tied at 1 and one out in the bottom of the sixth, Lilly Kinnon singled after a close 0-2 pitch was called a ball. Kinnon was sacrificed to second by Ella Breesi and advanced to third on a wild pitch. After Rylee McGinley walked and stole second, Sage Toman laced a two-run single to left on a 1-2 pitch and took second on the throw home.

Izzy Akelaitis poked a single to right to score Toman and make it 4-1. Abby Dunstan then crushed a 3-2 pitch over the center field fence for a two-run home run to cap the decisive inning.

Freeman retired the Cougars in order in the top of the seventh to finish off the victory.

“I just threw my game and my defense made some really good plays behind me today,” Freeman said. “I didn’t have a lot of strikeouts, but they made the plays. And that last inning, our bats came out on fire.

“I expected this to be a pitchers' duel, which it definitely was. But we were able to pound them at the end there.”

Northwestern Lehigh (22-4) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Toman reached on an error. She advanced to third on a single to right by Akelaitis and scored on a single by Dunstan.

Call bore down and got a groundout and a strikeout to minimize the damage.

Valley View answered in the top of the fourth. With one out, Zoie Krupovitch was hit by a pitch. Tessa Stafursky singled to right advancing Krupovitch to second. Ella Swingle then followed with a bloop single to left-center that scored Krupovitch. When the throw got past the catcher, Stafursky and Swingle moved to third and second, respectively.

But Freeman got the next two batters on a comebacker and a strikeout to keep it a 1-1 game. She allowed just a one-out single in the sixth to Krupovitch the rest of the way and had five of her strikeouts during that span.

“That was huge,” Wascura said of not being able to score more runs that inning.

“I teach them to swing at their pitch to hit. We can’t chase. Freeman was a fantastic pitcher. She had us chasing at stuff that we should have not been chasing. We scouted them well and knew what to expect. But even with the best preparation, sometimes you lose. And it’s OK because we’re going to learn from the mistakes made and move forward.”

Added Call: “I just feel like our energy wasn’t good those last couple innings. And we were swinging at a lot of pitches that we could have taken.”

In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers threatened to break the tie. With two outs, Akelaitis reached on an error on a dropped fly ball. Dunstan had an infield single and, after hitting several foul balls hard on a 3-2 count, Freeman walked to load the bases. Shelby Mitman then lined Call’s first pitch, which first baseman Krupovitch snared to end the inning.

“I always have confidence in myself that I can do it and get out of it,” Call said. “Zoie did really good. She played a good game.”

With only three seniors on the roster, Wascura told her team after the game to use the loss as a learning experience for next season.

“We don’t like the feeling we’re feeling now,” Wascura said. “Take the time to feel it and not let it happen again. We don’t want to feel that way anymore. We’ll make adjustments in the offseason. These kids all play travel ball, they all have tournaments and different things going on to make them better. We’re going to come back even better than ever next year.”