Pine Valley set to make return trip to Sectional finals

SOUTH DAYTON – Down 5-1 heading into the top of the seventh, the No. 3 Forestville Lady Hornets looked to do what the No. 2 Pine Valley Lady Panthers did to them during last year’s Section 6 Class D softball title game.

Down three runs heading into the final inning of that game, Pine Valley rallied to beat top-seeded Forestville, which had aspirations of making a deep run into the 2013 playoffs.

Despite putting together a similar rally Friday afternoon, the Lady Hornets fell short as the Lady Panthers, behind solid pitching from sophomore Jessica Wilcox, held on for a 5-3 win during Class D semifinal action.

“It was similar to what happened to us (in 2013),” Forestville head coach Bri Hazelton said. “It was the top of the seventh in that Sectional final last year and we were up by three, and (Pine Valley) came back in the top of the seventh. So I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to be the opposite of what happened last year.’ We were close and I’m proud of the girls. They battled back. They never gave up and it was a very respectful ball game.”

With one out, Julia Szoszorek singled and came around to score on a triple off the bat of Alicia Szumigala. A run-scoring single by Olivia Burger chased home Szumigala and cut the Lady Panthers’ lead, 5-3.

But Wilcox settled down and got Emily Narraway to pop out to third and Ashley VanBuskirk to ground out to third to end the game.

“She’s a hard worker,” Pine Valley coach Mark Mansfield said of Wilcox. “She pitches all year, she’s a perfectionist. She wants to do everything right and that’s the kind of person you want in your circle. You’ve got to have a hard worker and I know darn well by the time she’s a senior, she’s going to be absolutely untouchable.”

Wilcox, the winning pitcher in last year’s matchup between these two CCAA East II foes, allowed three runs on seven hits while striking out 10 and walking two.

“What she’s struggled with this year has been her control,” Mansfield said. “And what I’ve seen over the last three or four games is she’s starting to get good control of her fastball. She’s spotting the fastball better and when she does that, she’s very tough to hit. She does have other pitches, but she’s getting that confidence now that she can throw it where she wants to and this is the right time of year to be doing that.”

Pine Valley jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second after Kayla Mansfield led off the frame with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Cassie Tingue.

“That’s always big,” Mansfield said of grabbing the early lead. “You get a few runs and the girls start building their confidence when they go up (to home plate). You always love to get a few runs right off the bat.”

Wilcox and Szumigala held opposing hitters in check in the third inning, but in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Panthers broke the game open.

Mansfield reached on an error that left her at second base, before moving to third on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Alex Bentham. Mansfield later scored on a wild pitch while Bentham was chased home on an RBI triple by Tingue, who scampered home with the Lady Panthers’ fourth run after scoring on a ground out off the bat of Laurel Killock.

“That was big, those three runs,” Mansfield said. “Especially with the way Jessica has been pitching, I figured that would be enough, but as it turned out, we needed at least one more.”

Pine Valley’s fifth run came in the bottom of the sixth inning as Bentham scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Killock.

“Against the best pitchers, and (Szumigala) is a very good pitcher, you have to put the ball in play,” Mansfield said. “You’ve got to put your bat on (the ball) and make (the other) team make plays. And after the first inning, that’s what we started to do.”

Szumigala finished allowing five runs – four earned – on three hits while striking out seven and walking two.

“All season long she’s done a wonderful job,” Hazelton said of Szumigala. “She always battles back and if we had a rough inning, she just kept going and never gave up. I’m so proud of all that she’s accomplished this year.”

Szumigala also shined at the plate as she went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

“She did have a game,” Hazelton said. “This was the last softball game of her career, so I think she just came out here and wanted to leave it all out on the field. And I think she did just that.”

Prior to its rally in the seventh, Forestville had a chance to cut into Pine Valley’s lead in the top of the sixth after VanBuskirk singled with one out and Katie Thompson reached on an error. But a trip to the circle by Mark Mansfield seemed to calm Wilcox down, as she struck out Makenzie Vanzile and got pinch hitter Faith Mierzwa to ground out to the shortstop to end the threat.

“That was basically just to calm everybody down,” Mansfield said of his visit to the circle in the top of the sixth. “(Jessica Wilcox) had been working hard out there in the hot sun, she just needed a break. Everybody pulled in and we talked about what we wanted to do on defense, took a deep breath and went back out there and got the outs.”

With the win, the Lady Panthers advance to the Sectional final against No. 4 Brocton, on Tuesday, at the Martin Road Athletic Complex, in Jamestown. The game is scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m.