SLIPPERY ROCK — Inches.
They are what separated West Greene and Cambridge Springs, two evenly matched teams on June 7 in the PIAA Class A softball quarterfinals.
Inches also are what separated Kiley Meek’s towering fly ball and the left-field foul pole in the top of the 10th inning, making the difference in the final score.
Meek hit a two-run homer on the first pitch of the 10th inning, just inside the white foul pole and beyond the 197 feet sign on the left-field wall, which proved to be the winning run in West Greene’s thrilling 6-5 tension-filled victory at Slippery Rock University.
“That’s the way it should be when you have two teams playing at that level,” West Greene coach Bill Simms said. “You’re not going to smack someone 15-0 at this point. There’s still more games to be played, but this game put an exclamation point on what has been a 20-win season for our seniors.”
The game, which had more twists and turns than a Greene County back road, was tied 3-3 after the regulation seven innings and 4-4 after eight. Following a scoreless ninth inning, in which West Greene had the potential tying run at third base with one out but did not score, the 10th began with the international tiebreaker rule as the Lady Pioneers’ London Whipkey started the frame at second base.
Meek then stepped into the batter’s box wanting to be aggressive in her at-bat against Blue Devils pitcher Hailey Rodgers.
“I’m not really a first-pitch hitter. I was looking for a strike to hit,” Meek said. “I swung at the first pitch only one other time in the game.”
This time, in her fifth at-bat, Meek got a pitch to her liking and swung hard at the first offering. It was a towering fly ball and there was little doubt if it would clear the outfield wall. The question was, would it stay fair?
“I didn’t even see it,” Meek said. “I ran all the way around first base.”
So there was no waving the ball fair, ala Boston’s Carlton Fisk on his famous home run in the 1975 World Series.
“I knew I hit it well,” Meek said. “It felt good coming off the bat. I didn’t know it was a home run until I saw London jumping.”
“I thought it was going to hit the screen on the foul pole,” Simms said.
It took a moment for the home-plate umpire to signal fair ball, but by then the Lady Pioneers knew it was a two-run homer and were on their way to celebrate at home plate.
Until then, the game was frustrating for West Greene (20-2). The Lady Pioneers had hits in nine of the 10 innings but, with the exception of a three at-bat stretch in the fifth inning, they couldn’t generate a hit that would lead to a big inning, which has been their trademark. Throw out the fifth inning and West Greene hitters were 0-for-18 with runners on base. It was so bad that even Simms made an out.
What? The coach made an out? Here’s how it happened:
In the fourth inning, with Cambridge Springs leading 1-0 and the Lady Pioneers’ Olivia Kiger at third base, Maddie McClure hit a foul popup along the third-base line near the Pioneers’ dugout. Simms, who was coaching third base, tried to get out of the way of Blue Devils third baseman Aly Acosta Reyes, who circled behind Simms, then charged toward home plate and ran into the coach, who was called for interference, retiring McClure.
In the fifth, West Greene finally got some clutch hits. Taylor Karvan led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch and she was bunted to second by Lexi Six and moved to third on a flyout by Jersey Wise. Katie Lampe, who was 4-for-5, hit an RBI infield single to tie the score at 1-1 and moved to third base on an ensuing throwing error. Whipkey followed with a single up the middle to give West Greene its first lead, 2-1. Meek, who struck out in her first two at-bats, then drilled an RBI-double off the bottom of the wall in left field to make it 3-1.
“Two strikeouts, that was uncharacteristic of Kiley, but I knew she would figure it out,” Simms said.
Cambridge Springs (17-3), the District 10 champion, got one of the runs back in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI groundout by Myranda Finley, the only run by the Blue Devils that wasn’t scored with two outs.
In the sixth, the Blue Devils tied it at 3-3 on a two-out single by Taylor Smith.
West Greene’s Kiger led off the eighth with a triple to right-centerfield and was still on third base with one out. That’s when BreAnn Jackson’s shallow fly ball was dropped by charging right fielder Emily Boylan, allowing Kiger to score.
“We were going to tag that one,” Simms said. “We were going to at least draw a throw to the plate, but ...”
Cambridge Springs, however, forced the game to continue when Smith’s two-out triple in the eighth scored Kylee Miller and made it 4-4.
“We just couldn’t get the third out in some innings,” Simms said. “That run in the eighth, it seemed like I tried to lose the game. We were up 4-3 and (Smith) had hit the ball well the entire game. We should have walked her. That’s not something we do, but the percentage play was to walk her.”
West Greene left Jersey Wise at third base in the ninth, but Cambridge Springs went down in order in the bottom of the inning. Meek got stronger as the game went along, striking out five of the final seven batters she faced.
Meek’s home run made it 6-4, and Cambridge Springs scored in the 10th on a two-out single by Reyes, but she was picked off at first base by Whipkey, the Lady Pioneers’ catcher, to end an epic game.
“We just had to execute and stay calm,” Meek said.
Both Meek and Rodgers, pitching a combined 20 innings, did not issue a walk.