Preparing for one of the biggest softball games of her young career, Hope Jones did some homework.
Like Tunkhannock head coach Bob Hegedty — who learned about District 11 champion Bangor through email correspondence — Jones also scoured the internet, finding video of some of Bangor’s top hitters.
“We had a good idea of what kind of team they were,” Jones said.
Bangor didn’t come close to replicating its usual offensive performances thanks to right-handed sophomores Jones and Kendra Schultz, who pitched Tunkhannock to 9-4 win in Monday’s PIAA Class 4A semifinals at Wilkes University.
Senior Paige Mokychic led Tunkhannock’s lineup, going 3 for 3 with a walk and sending the Lady Tigers to their first state championship, which will be at Penn State 1:30 p.m. Thursday against District 7 three seed Mount Pleasant.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Mokychic said. “I almost cried — I was so happy.”
Bangor (26-2) entered Monday with some gaudy statistics — .418 team batting average, 10.2 runs scored per game and 16 games with 11 or more runs scored — as well as senior first baseman Dani Fey, who entered batting .638 and is committed to play at Penn State.
To show how the day went for Tunkhannock and the Slaters, Fey struck out three times.
“We were trying to jam them up on the inside; we knew they were a really good hitting team,” Jones said. “So we were really just trying to jam them up, keep the ball not barreled up.”
It was the Lady Tigers who were able to seize the early momentum in the opening inning without even needing to get in the hits column to do it.
A couple of walks and a couple of bunts, paired with two Bangor errors and a wild pitch, plated Hope Jones and sister Faith to give Tunkhannock the 2-0 advantage.
The Slaters returned serve in the bottom of the frame, however, and tied things back up at 2-2 on a two-out double.
Bangor would then end up going to its bullpen early in the top of the second after Tunkhannock sophomore Erin Dunn led off the inning with a walk, but worked out of trouble.
As did Hope Jones, who had runners on first and second with one out before ending the inning.
In-between innings, the game to an interesting turn, at least for those in favor of superstitions and omens in sports.
A woodchuck scurried through the left field fence and made its way down the foul line and near the Tunkhannock dugout before athletic director Kenny Janiszewski was able to corral the critter into a bucket and off to safety.
Whether aided by good fortune or not, the Lady Tigers’ offense struck quickly in the top of the third when Faith Jones walked, Mokychic walloped a single into left field for the team’s first hit and Simmons advanced the duo to second and third with a bunt.
Schultz followed with a grounder to first that scored a run when the throw home was late.
Tunkhannock tried to double-up with another bunt, but Bangor’s Olivia Groller feilded the ball from third, faked the throw from first and was able to fool Mokychic into a rundown and the second out before a popup ended the threat.
Then came the big inning that had eluded Tunkhannock (15-4) in the district playoff tournament, in which it never scored more than three runs in a game — let alone an inning.
The Lady Tigers broke the game open by scoring six runs and sending 11 batters to the plate in the top of the fourth, similar to when it scored nine runs in the second inning last week against Eastern York in the quarterfinals.
“It was just a matter of time before it all started coming together and we started putting up big scores,” Hope Jones said of Tunkhannock’s recent big innings.
No. 8 hitter Hailey Farr hit a leadoff single to left, senior Jenn Bulford moved her to second on a bunt and No. 2 hitter Faith Jones’ brought her home on a bloop single to right field.
Mokychic then ripped a double to left field, scoring Hope Jones and making it 5-2 to force Bangor to bring in its third pitching of the game with the bases loaded.
Schultz then worked a four-pitch walk to score Faith Jones and bring in the Slaters fourth pitcher, whom senior Sarah Traver promptly greeted with an RBI single to make it 7-2.
Just when it looked like Bangor was about to stop the bleeding when Dunn hit a hard grounder, the ball went through the shortstop’s legs and scored two more runs to go up 9-2.
“We’re working hard at our practices with our hitting,” Hegedty said. “We’re just trying to string a couple together and our lineup is doing a really good job of that — of feeding off of each other — and they’re working well right now.”
That fourth pitcher, Serena DeAngelis, would settle down to toss 3 2/3 scoreless innings, but the damage was already done.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hope Jones continued to send down the Bangor batters, and even after allowing a walk, senior catcher Danielle Krispin was able to fire down to first after a pitch to catch the runner in a pickle for the out.
The Slaters recorded two hits to lead off the sixth and made way for Schultz to take over for Jones, who finished the game allowing seven hits for three earned runs with three strikeouts and one walk.
Bangor added another hit and scored those two runs, but Schultz was able to work out of the game and get to the seventh with Tunkhannock up 9-4.
The Slaters tried for one more rally with their final at-bats to surmount yet another comeback in the state playoffs, and managed to get runners on first and third with only one out.
But Tunkhannock, which played another solid game defensively, closed out the win, with sophomore Jena Simmons catching a popup at third base for the final out.
“It was exhilarating,” Mokychic said of the last out. “I saw everybody standing up in the crowd, clapping, cheering and my heart just started racing. I was so excited.”
Sports editor John Lund also contributed to this story.