BY JEFF FALK
MILLERSVILLE – Last in. First out.
But a deserving in. And a tough out.
The Cedar Crest softball team’s rollercoaster of a season pulled into the station on Friday evening, as the Falcons fell to the Comets of Penn Manor 6-3 in a District Three Class AAAA play-in game at (Penn) Manor Middle School. Cedar Crest only trailed 2-1 in the sixth inning, but the Comets scored four times in their half of the frame to put the outcome out of reach.
Cedar Crest entered the contest as the last team to have qualified for the tournament – seeded 20th in a format that takes 20 teams – with a 10-10 overall record and having had split with Penn Manor during two regular-season meetings in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Penn Manor, the 13th seed, improved to 13-8 on the spring.
“Down the stretch, this is what we were shooting for,” said Cedar Crest head coach Jerry Stover. “When we knew we couldn’t finish first or second in the section (and qualify for the league postsesason), the next goal is the district playoffs. Play-in game or not, we made the district playoffs. And had we won would’ve had a second shot against Central Dauphin.
“The thing I’m going to take away from this season is that we faced adversity,” Stover continued. “We lost some tight ball games. But we came back. They’re (his players) scrappers and they never quit.”
“Last year we were pretty good,” said Falcon senior Katy Lutz. “And this year we had a bunch of seniors. We all wanted to go out with a bang. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best that we could. And we wanted to set an example for the younger girls. We really did become sisters in the end.”
After struggling at the plate for most of the contest, the Falcons got something going and cut their deficit to 2-1 with a run in the top of the sixth inning. But Penn Manor stole back CC’s mojo in the bottom of the sixth, scoring four times on just two hits to re-inforce their advantage to 6-1.
All four runs that the Comets scored came with two outs, and the rally was fueled by a pair of Falcon miscues.
“You’d like to go into the top of the seventh one run down,” said Stover. “We were starting to put the ball in play. We had some life. But that (PM’s sixth at-bat) changed the whole complexion.
“We had runners,” Stover continued. “We didn’t get the key hit. You’ve got to get the key hit when you have runners on. But we always seem to make a game of it. These kids don’t know what quit means.”
“I think that was the key,” said Lutz. “At that point, we were happy with one run. They (the Comets) were just hitting it in the righ place at the right time. I think that (PM’s sixth) put a lot of pressure on us for the last inning.”
Facing a 2-0 hole, Lutz led off the top of the sixth with a single. She moved to second base on Kayla Seyfert’s base hit, was sacrificed to third by Sarah Miller and scored on a wild pitch. But Seyfert, the potential tying run, was stranded at third.
“When you get to this level and you don’t win, you end your season with a loss,” said Stover. “We played these guys (the Comets) two times and both games were tight. I think they’re (his troops) down a little bit. We had a bit of a tough season. We had some adversity and in the middle of the season we lost five games by a total of seven runs. But it wasn’t meant to be today.”
“Things didn’t go exactly the way we thought they would,” said Lutz. “We thought we’d come out and jump on them. We wanted to win every inning, but we didn’t win everyone. But we didn’t give up either.”
To their credit, the Falcons didn’t go easily, despite the fact that they faced a five-run deficit in their final at-bat. Katie Ford and Jenny Bear, who had led off with a double and walk, respectively, both came around to score on Danielle Podjed’s two-run single.
“Their pitcher is sneaky,” said Stover of Penn Manor starter Ashley Witmer. “We saw her the first two times we played them. That’s the reason I pitched Kayla (Seyfert) today. They (the Comets) saw Rachel Deckman before. I didn’t think she (Seyfert) threw badly.
“As seniors, it’s our last game, so it’s pretty emotional,” said Lutz. “Some of the players think they didn’t play their best. I think that’s what’s going through their heads right now.”
The Comets struck for a run in the top of the first, as Witmer’s sacrfice fly followed Micahla Ponaiarci’s triple. Penn Manor made it 2-0 in the third on Witmer’s RBI-single.
“(At the beginning of the season) We knew we had an older team age-wise, but not a whole lot of game experience,” said Stover. “We didn’t know exactly what we had. A couple of games we went beyond those expectations. Overall, we met our expectations, and winning those five close ones would’ve put us over the top.”
“A lot of us had played since our freshman year, so we knew what to expect,” said Lutz. “And we knew coming in what the other teams had, so we could pretty much help each other out with what to expect.”
Lutz collected two of Cedar Crest’s six hits.