By JOE ECKSTROM
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
JAMESTOWN – The Section 6 Class D softball title game between two-time defending champion Forestville and upstart Pine Valley will be remembered as many things – a major upset, an improbable comeback and most definitely an instant classic.
The Lady Panthers scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh in dramatic fashion to knot the game 3-all and send it into extra innings.
After a lightning delay, the Lady Panthers once again scored in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the team’s first Class D Section 6 title since 2005 with a 4-3 win over the Lady Hornets.
In a game full of drama, it was business as usual for Pine Valley head coach Danielle Arnone.
“It’s been like this all year long,” Arnone said. “We struggle in the beginning and things just kind of come together for us.”
And struggle Pine Valley did as it only reached base twice in the first six innings.
A big part of Pine Valley struggled was the domination of Forestville’s Ryanne Dugan in the circle, despite some early setbacks.
In the top of the first, Forestville’s Cherish Pope was on second base and dove back to the bag to avoid being thrown out. However, in the process, the catcher sprained her shoulder and was out for the remainder of the game.
“As a former pitcher I know what it is like to be without your battery mate,” Forestville coach Brianne Hazelton said. “Not to take away anything that Precious (Kaczor) did behind the plate, but it is definitely different to have someone else behind the plate.”
The Lady Hornets did score a run in the top of the first when Emily Dillenburg came around to touch home after reaching base on an error.
The one run was more than enough the way Dugan was pitching as she struck out nine through the first six innings and finished with 13 overall.
Pine Valley got an outstanding pitching performance of their own from freshman Jessica Wilcox.
Wilcox struck out nine as she pitched in the biggest game of her young career.
“Jess played at the jayvee level most of the season,” Arnone said. “We brought her up with three league games left in the season. We’ve been saying that she is our secret weapon and she pitched outstanding. She showed strength and talent well above her experience level.”
Forestville scored its second run in the fifth inning when Alisha Szumigala singled down the first baseline to lead off the inning. From there, two wild pitches advanced Szumigala to third base where she eventually scored on a passed ball to make the score 2-0.
The Lady Hornets added their third run in the seventh when Dillenburg touched home for the second time on an RBI single from Lydia Burger.
Then the real fun started.
Nicole Rinehart started off the bottom of the seventh with a single, followed up by a single from Wilcox.
Justine Chitwood hit the team’s third straight single to score Rinehart and give the Lady Panthers their first run of the game.
Wilcox then scored on a passed ball while Chitwood advanced two bases to get to third on the same play. Aleah Fancher came through in the clutch with Pine Valley’s fourth single of the inning with two outs which brought Chitwood to the plate with the tying run.
“A lot of girls pulled together to make this happen,” Arnone said. “Forestville is an amazing team and it took everything we had to beat them.”
Just as the game was about to go into extra innings, lightning struck causing a 40 minute delay and gave both teams a break from the emotional roller coaster that was the seventh inning.
In the eighth, both teams were able to get one runner aboard, but were unable to end the contest.
In the top of the ninth, Kaczor reached base on an error while a pair of wild pitches allowed her to advance to third base with two outs, but the Lady Hornets were unable to score the go-ahead run.
In the bottom half of the inning, Pine Valley sealed the victory when Cassie Tingue reached base on an error with two outs.
A stolen base and a passed ball allowed the runner to advance to third while Fancher was at the plate.
Fancher struck out for the third out of the inning, but the dropped third strike and a botched throw to first allowed Pine Valley to score the championship-clinching run.
“I have seven wonderful seniors that have accomplished so much,” Hazelton said. “They shouldn’t hang their heads. They have all had tremendous careers.”
As for the Lady Panthers, they will move on to the Far West Regional in Olean on Tuesday.