GREENSBURG — The PIAA Class AAAA semifinal seemed to hit the pause button when Taylor Ludwick crossed the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The realization of what occurred when Ludwick hustled home on Brianna Sersevic’s bloop single finally settled in a moment later, when the Lady Warriors recognized the run was the difference in a 2-1 victory Tuesday afternoon against Mount Pleasant and their first berth into the state championship.
The Lady Warriors (20-4) advance to the Class AAAA final against West Perry (23-5) on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Nittany Lion Softball Park on the campus of Penn State University. The Mustangs, the No. 3 seed out of District 3, defeated Honesdale, 3-1.
The bottom of the eighth inning started innocently enough for Carolyn Alincic and the Lady Vikings with a strikeout looking and Alincic cleanly fielding Jordan Pinneri’s bunt for the second out.
Ludwick, however, worked Alincic for a walk to keep the inning alive and then moved into scoring position with a stolen base.
Servesic followed with a fly ball to short center field to the left field side of second base. Ludwick was running on the pitch and coach Harry Rutherford sent her home with the game-winning run.
“I waved Taylor through. I knew it was going to drop,” said Rutherford. “I felt confident Taylor would be our best chance.”
“With those two teams, someone was going to win it. They were going to earn it. It was a well-played game between two good teams,” added Rutherford.
Kailey Larcinese walked Katie Hutter with one out in the top of the first, but struck out Mary Smithnosky and Autumn Shogun swinging.
The Lady Warriors came out of the gate early with the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning.
Alincic opened the inning with a pair of strikeouts, but Ludwick rapped a sharp single past Hutter into right field. She stole second and hustled around for the first run on Sersevic’s single to left field. Sersevic took second base when the ball kicked away for an error.
Alincic struck out Larcinese to close the threat.
“The stolen base sets up our offense,” said Rutherford.
Both pitchers settled in over the next two innings.
Larcinese struck out the side to strand Lexis Shawley after her one-out single in the top of the second inning, and then went 1-2-3 in the top of the third.
The Lady Warriors’ Grace Smith singled to open the bottom of the second inning and moved to second on a passed ball, but was left there when Alincic struck out the next three batters. Ludwick doubled with two outs in the third inning, but was stranded on an infield groundout.
The Lady Vikings finally cracked the scoreboard with two outs in the top of the fourth inning. Hannah Gnibus’ fly ball to center field kept carrying until it deposited over the fence for a 1-1 game.
“You’re going to get those,” Rutherford said of the home run. “The team reacted well after the home run. Bri (Sersevic) said the pitch was where it was supposed to be, she just got a hold of it.”
Mount Pleasant threatened in the top of the fifth inning when Sydni Overly singled with one out and Rae McNair followed with a walk. Pinneri then made the defensive play of the game when she dove to her left to stab Haylie Brunson’s sinking line drive and then scrambled to swipe second base with her glove to complete the inning-ending double play.
“Jordan gave up her body and made a great double play. That was a big play with their second, third and fourth batters coming up,” praised Rutherford.
Larcinese retired the next seven batters with McNair’s one-out walk in the top of the eighth inning breaking the string. Haylie Brunson flied out to shortstop and Hutter’s swinging bunt was cleanly fielded by Larcinese for the final out.
Larcinese struck out nine, walked three and allowed three hits.
“We just couldn’t get the hits,” said Mount Pleasant coach Chris Brunson. “We knew it would be 2-1 or 3-2. Those kids are too good and they’re too well coached.”
Alincic also retired seven in a row, three on strikeouts, until she hit Brooke Marklund in the back with a pitch in the seventh. An innocent pop to the pitcher and Alincic’s 13th strikeout ended the inning.
Alincic allowed six hits, walked one, hit one batter and struck out 14.
Now, the Lady Warriors prepare for their first state championship.
"This is the best bonded team I’ve ever coached in my 42 years,” praised Rutherford. “They responded well. They put the time and effort in, and it obviously showed.
“They’ll be fine with it. This is an unchartered game for them, and me. It’s all icing on the cake after the WPIAL championship.”
The Lady Vikings close the season with a mark of 19-2, with the only losses coming to Elizabeth Forward. The first loss was in the WPIAL final.
The Lady Vikings played without Courtney Poulich for most of the season, but lose only Alincic to graduation.
“We lost Courtney early. That was a huge offensive blow for us. But, they did a good job covering for that for most of the year,” said coach Brunson. “Most of the team is intact for next year.”