ERIE — If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.
Girard didn’t necessarily reach a mile in 10 240-foot trips around the bases paths against Titusville on Monday in the District 10 Class 3A Softball Playoffs at Penn State Behrend. However, the Yellow Jackets made the Rockets pay for every one of the five errors the Titusville defense committed during a heartbreaking 10-3 loss, which ended the season for the Brown and Gold.
Holding a 3-0 lead, Titusville’s defensive woes found their way into the game in the bottom of the fourth inning when a two-out fly ball that would have ended the inning caromed to the ground off a Rocket glove, and sparked a three-run Girard rally that tied the contest.
One inning later, the Rockets (6-11) allowed the leadoff batter to reach base via a throwing error. Later, a misplayed ground ball in the infield with the bases loaded and two outs allowed the Yellow Jackets (16-3) to erupt for seven runs in the frame, which put any chance of reaching the semifinals out of reach.
“I told the girls coming in that the team that makes the least amount of defensive errors was going to win the game,” Titusville coach Hannah Borkovich said. “(Girard) is a good defensive team, and we saw that today. It’s unfortunate that it’s the end of the season, but I told them that we have nothing to hang our heads about.”
The Rockets had the Region 4 champion Yellow Jackets on their heels throughout the first half of the contest. Despite losing the first head-to-head matchup, 7-3, in non-region action back on April 18 in Girard, Titusville strung together five hits off of Girard starting pitcher Sydney Wetzel in the top of the first to grab the early momentum.
Lindsey Kemp and McKenna Houck lined back-to-back, one-out singles putting Rocket runners on first and second. Amber Scott followed with an RBI single that plated Kemp, and Houck and Scott advanced to third and second base, respectively, on the throw to the plate. Following the second out of the inning, Kaitlyn Russell stroked a two-run single to the outfield to chase home Houck and Scott and cap off the three-run attack.
Borkovich acknowledged that getting the early momentum was huge for her club.
“I’ve made them start setting goals before each inning,” Borkovich said. “Before we even went out to hit, their goal was (two runs), and we scored three. That gets them set up for wanting to reach something. I could tell right off the bat they were hungry to get out and score runs. We lost that hunger halfway through the game, and once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.”
As with any good pitcher, the Rockets were fortunate to get to Wetzel early because after the first inning, the Yellow Jacket junior hurler settled in and was dominant the rest of the way. Wetzel struck out a total of 10 Rockets and only surrendered three hits from the second inning on.
Scott tripled with one out in the bottom of the third and Lindsay Sines reached base on a fielder’s choice to put runners on the corners. However, Wetzel battled back to punch out the next two hitters to end the threat.
“Wetzel is a good pitcher,” Borkovich said. “She throws a nice rise ball and picks her spots well. We struggled the first time that we saw her, too. She’s quicker and has a lot of movement on the ball.”
Titusville starting pitcher Audrey Herman baffled Girard’s hitters during the first three frames. Herman worked around a two-out single by Chloe Simmons in the first inning and Megan Wassong reaching base safely on an error to start the second stanza to keep the Yellow Jackets off of the scoreboard through three chances at the plate.
After Wetzel set the Rocket side down in order in the top of the fourth inning, the Yellow Jacket offense came to bat, down 3-0.
Titusville quickly got the first two outs thanks to diving catch by catcher Scott, on a pop-up in front of home plate, and a strikeout by Herman. Wassong and Hannah Stull followed with singles to keep the inning alive for Girard. That’s when the game fell out of the Rockets’ hands.
Tori Williams came to bat looking to put Girard on the board, and hit a fly ball to right-centerfield that was dropped by the Titusville defense. One runner came in to score on the error, while Stull and Williams both advanced into scoring position. Kaylin Kohan immediately knotted up the contest with a two-run triple down the right field line, as the Rocket lead was gone.
Titusville had a chance to get one of those unearned runs back in the top of the fifth when Houck tripled with only one out. Unfortunately, the next two batters struck out which kept the game tied.
Davina Masterson reached base on a fielding error to start bottom of the fifth inning, and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Wetzel. While fielding the bunt and making the throw to first, Herman sustained a lower back injury. She remained in the contest on the mound and battled through the discomfort, but it had an impact on her delivery.
Simmons followed the sacrifice bunt with an RBI single that put Girard ahead for good. Herman responded by getting Alyssa Wolford to pop out to third, but then loaded the bases by hitting Wassong and Stull. With two outs, Williams grounded a pitch right to shortstop, but the inning-ending play wasn’t made, and Simmons scored as the ball was bobbled by the Titusville defense.
With the Rockets now trailing, 5-3, the flood gates opened for the Yellow Jackets offense. Kohan tallied her second two-run hit of the game and Masterson contributed an RBI single in the seven-run frame.
Titusville had another chance to plate a run in the top of the sixth when Russell smacked a double off of the left field fence to start the frame, but was left stranded. The Rockets went down in order in their final chance in the seventh to end the season.
“It’s a matter of how you respond to (the errors),” Borkovich said. “I knew (Girard) was going to score runs. We went up 3-0, but I went (into the dugout) and said that we have to keep pushing and that we can’t sit with three. We had (runners) in scoring position with less than two outs, but we weren’t getting those hard hits when we needed them.”
Houck, Russell and Scott finished with two hits apiece, while Kemp and Isabella Sutley chipped in singles. Herman struck out four hitters on the mound over six innings without allowing an earned run.
Despite the loss, the Rockets improved immensely over the course of the season. After losing seven of its first nine games, Titusville closed out the regular season by winning four of its last six contests. Borkovich was pleased with her team’s improvement.
“We never gave up,” Borkovich said. “A lot of the teams we’ve seen the second half of the season have been surprised by the team we have become. We have to get over that obstacle of that one inning that is holding us back right now, but it was a really nice season. It’s refreshing to see that they have that drive to get better, and now they see how important is to be defensively solid through a whole seven innings. I’m truly blessed to have coached them, and I’m really proud of how much they accomplished after just one season. Hopefully going into next season, this is where we start, and we’ll be tough.”