SLIPPERY ROCK — Frazier’s softball team has never been to a state championship game and it had to put off any celebration of clinching such a trip just a little longer than it wanted on Tuesday afternoon.
Cranberry scored two runs in the top of the seventh to forge a 4-4 tie in the PIAA Class AA semifinal game at Slippery Rock University but that just set the stage for a dramatic 5-4 walk-off victory by the Lady Commodores.
Logan Hartman scampered home from second base with the winning run on Emi Curcio’s single to left in the bottom of the seventh to end a roller-coaster final inning and allow Frazier to punch its ticket to Thursday’s championship game at Penn State University.
“That was the best feeling ever,” Hartman said about touching home plate with the winning run. “Even better than winning the WPIAL, better than anything I’ve ever felt on the field before. It takes so much hard work to make it to the state championship.
“We finally made it.”
Frazier (20-4) will play either Susquenita or Brandywine Heights in the PIAA final 11 a.m. Thursday at Beard Field in Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Frazier held a 4-2 lead heading into the top of the seventh when Maddie Cornelius and Kaylie Bruce both hit one-out singles to center for Cranberry (15-6). Rachael McCauley moved both runners up with a ground out to second and Malliah Schreck followed with a two-run single to right to tie it.
Schreck drove in all four of the Berries’ runs.
There was no panic by Frazier coach Don Hartman, though, when his team got back into the dugout.
“I said, hey, listen, their top of the order put them back in the game. Now we have the top of the order up,” he said. “We’ve got to do the same thing. We’re playing for one run to walk this thing off and go to a state title game.”
They did just that, starting with his daughter.
Logan Hartman put the top of the inning behind her and smashed a lead-off single to left off losing pitcher Andrea Watson to start the winning rally.
“I went back in the dugout and I told my team we have to do this now,” she said. “I had that mindset, I forgot about the last inning and just tried to get on base.”
Once there, Juliann Johnson laid down her second sacrifice bunt of the game to move Hartman to second and Kathryn Barch drew a walk to bring up Curcio.
“I was trying to make contact and put it through the infield,” Curcio said.
She did that, smacking a sharp grounder that ricocheted off Berries third baseman Emily Duncan’s glove and then off shortstop Schreck into short left field. Hartman rounded third and easily scored.
“I can’t lie, I looked up in the sky a little bit,” Don Hartman said. “I lost my dad in ‘03, I kind of begged him for a little bit of help right there. That was two quirky bounces off gloves.”
Watching his daughter be the winning pitcher and score the winning run in such a monumental victory brought tears to the coach’s eyes.
“As a dad, to have your daughter in the circle, and she and I have been in our backyard since she’s been eight years old learning how to fast pitch, for her to pitch not only our team to a state title game but score that run, it’s a dream come true as a parent.”
Both teams’ offenses got off to good starts and put up runs in the first inning.
Watson singled, advanced to second on the game’s lone error, took third on McCauley’s single and scored on Schreck’s fielder’s choice for a 1-0 lead.
Logan Hartman helped Frazier answer right back with a lead-off single to center in the bottom of the inning. Johnson was hit by a pitch, Kathryn Barch bunted the runners up and Rylee Evan smashed a two-run single to left to put the Lady Commodores ahead 2-1.
Coach Hartman pointed out Evans’ maturity as a hitter for helping her in that particular situation.
“I’ve always told her there’s a time to take that big-daddy hack, go for that home run, but there’s a time you’ve got to go for the single instead,” he said. “She looked right at me that at-bat and she knew that was the time for a singles swing. She hit a hard shot and got us into the lead.
“That was a huge hit for us.”
Cranberry pulled even in the third on Schreck’s RBI double.
The next two runs by the Lady Commodores came courtesy of Megan Celaschi.
The speedy No. 9 hitter drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the third, stole second, advanced to third on Johnson’s ground out and stole home when catcher Jenna Reynolds attempted a pick-off throw to first to put Frazier up 3-2.
Celaschi reached again leading off the fifth with a hustling double on a looping hit to left field. One out later, Johnson put down a sacrifice bunt to push Celaschi to third and when first baseman McCauley threw behind her as she rounded the base, the senior center fielder sprinted home and beat the relay throw to make it 4-2.
“Coach told us we’ve got to be aggressive and put pressure on them,” Celaschi said. “So that’s what I tried to do. I knew they would be close plays but it was worth it to try it.”
“Megan can run and really knows what she’s doing on the bases,” coach Hartman said. “Like any good base runner, she’s always looking to take that extra base. She did all that on her own today.”
Watson allowed seven hits and five walks to go with four strikeouts. Hartman gave up 12 hits but only three earned runs with two walks and seven strikeouts, and also had two hits and scored twice.
Barch had a double, two stolen bases and a sacrifice bunt.
Johnson had no hits but four productive plate appearances as she put down two sacrifice bunts, was hit by a pitch and moved a runner up with a ground out. The catcher also gunned down Maria Anderson on an attempted steal in the fourth inning.
“We executed, we got bunts down we made plays,” coach Hartman said.
Cornelius, Bruce, MCauley and Schreck each had two hits for the District 9 champion Berries.
Curcio deflected credit for her winning hit and embodied her team’s selfless attitude.
“It’s not just me, it was everyone out there working together,” she said. “Everyone contributed. It feels good that we’re getting to play for the state title for the first time in school history.”
“It feels amazing,” Celaschi said.
“My last softball game ever I’m going to be playing in a state championship game.”