After beating the defending Class AAA state champions just five days earlier, to say the Tunkhannock softball team had confidence entering its first district title game in program history was an understatement.
But sometimes, the hits don’t quite go your way.
When the Lady Tigers squared off against Berwick at Wilkes University on Wednesday, May 28, it was just one of those days.
Berwick benefitted from Tunkhannock miscues in the first inning and never looked back in a 5-0 shutout at the District 2 AAA Championship.
“We had two good practices after the Valley View game, and I think (Berwick) had a total of five hits off us in two games, so our plan was the same to pitch, them inside on the hands, which we did in the last couple games,” Tunkhannock head coach John Keefe said. “We were very comfortable and we thought we had a very good chance.”
After beating Tunkhannock in their last meeting while only recording one hit the entire game, the Lady Bulldogs built a 2-0 lead after the first inning, again without recording a hit.
Berwick’s starting pitcher Moriah Lynn opened the inning by reaching first on a wild-pitch third strike, and after she was sacrificed to second, Tunkhannock shortstop Traci Kromko was called for infielder interference on a slow grounder, allowing Lynn to take third.
Lynn and a courtesy runner then scored on a throwing error by third baseman Ashley Knott to put Berwick ahead, 2-0.
“It wasn’t hard to keep the girls up after that because they really thought they could come back,” Keefe said. “The only thing I did say was to focus more on our defense and they tightened that up very well.”
When Tunkhannock pitcher Erin Smith finally surrendered her first hits, Berwick would add one run in the third, fourth and fifth innings to give Lynn some breathing room on the mound.
Smith finished the day with three earned runs on five hits and five strikeouts, which gave her 128 in her senior season.
However, after the Lady Bulldogs almost surrendered a six-run lead in the semifinals the game before, no lead was safe for Berwick.
That, and Tunkhannock already had a knack for late-inning heroics, scoring two seventh-inning runs in a 3-2 quarterfinal win against North Pocono.
But on this day, Tunkhannock couldn’t quite seem to catch a timely break.
The Lady Tigers finished the game with five hits, the same total as Berwick, but never managed more than one in an inning.
Their closest chance to score would come in the third, as Kailey Reposa led off the inning with a walk, but was caught stealing second.
Molly Hampsey, the only Lady Tiger to reach second base in the game, followed with a double, but ended up stranded.
Tunkhannock went down in order in the fourth, but attempted another rally in the fifth.
Knott led off the inning with a single to center. Michelle Goodwin followed with a hard-hit ball to the right of Berwick second baseman Kylene Welsh, who backhanded the ball on her knees to force out Knott at second.
Kalie Bulford followed with a similar grounder up the middle, but again Welsh made the play for the Bulldogs, who played a seemingly flawless game in the field to defend several hard hit balls by Tunkhannock.
In the later innings, the Lady Tigers began swinging earlier in the counts to combat Lynn’s off-speed pitches, including Kromko, who finished the game with two hits and led the team with a .479 average this season.
But Tunkhannock couldn’t seem to find any holes, and that trend continued in the seventh.
In the seventh, Tunkhannock’s Taylor Hegedty, who had started the seventh inning rally against North Pocono and in the second inning for two runs against Valley View, this time came up empty on a deep flyout to centerfield.
Knott followed, lining a first pitch bullet up the middle that was fittingly snagged by Lynn.
“After the game, I told them that in all the games I’ve coached, I’ve never seen balls hit harder that were right at people,” Keefe said. “There were line drives to the outfield that five feet one way or the other would have been in the gap. We weren’t lucky in that way, but in the same vein, you have to give Berwick credit. Their defense was unbelievable and they played very well, so I can’t take that away from them.”
With two outs, Goodwin singled, but Lynn struck out Lindsey Kwiatkowski to end the game and Tunkhannock’s season at 12-6 overall.
“I told them not to hang their heads,” Keefe said. “We had nothing to be ashamed of. If they stopped and thought about it they’d realize that, but it’s hard when the hurt is there. Myself and the coaching staff were all proud of them.”
Though the Lady Tigers last three district losses came via shutout (10-0 to Valley View in last year’s semifinals and 6-0 to Holy Redeemer in 2012), Tunkhannock has certainly made strides in the right direction, especially with a younger team this season.
“Every year we’ve gone to the district tournament, we’ve improved,” Keefe said. “It was a giant step to get past Valley View and we told the freshmen that this group had set the bar rather high for them. This group got there for three straight years and that’s a record that we use to build and catapult the kids that come to workout in the winter.”
The younger players had the benefit of not only the tutelage of their coaches, but from six seniors who brought the Lady Tigers game to the next level.
“This group of seniors are a special group of kids,” Keefe said. “They were the reason why we started travel ball at Tunkhannock and they responded well as they grew up. They led more by their approach to the game and by their attitude. They’re kids who will go on to college and service but will come back to visit when we play.”
“I keep telling them they’re like a bad penny, but I say that with the utmost love because they’re special kids,” Keefe joked. “They’ve always been a class act, but they stepped it up a little more this year and I’m proud of them.”