Bermudian Springs’ pitcher Tori Murren was just about perfect in Thursday’s District 3-3A title game against Pequea Valley at Millersville University.
The junior started in the circle and did not allow a hit until the sixth inning, striking out seven and walking none along the way. She also drove in the lone run of the game for the Eagles.
Unfortunately for Bermudian, the margins in playoff softball can be razor thin, and such was the case when the Braves plated two runs in the sixth inning to come from behind and claim a 2-1 victory to take home a district championship.
“I thought she did an outstanding job,” Eagles’ coach Ed Kennell said of Murren after the game. “We stuck to the game plan and they had three really nice solid hits that were pretty much in the gap. They were nice shots at the best time and in a tight game sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
After knocking off top-seeded Trinity on Tuesday to reach the district championship game and qualify for the state tournament for the first time, it would have been easy for the Eagles (12-11) to enter the game against Pequea (16-5) with a “happy to be here” attitude. But instead they came out and took the fight right to the Braves and starter Olivia Ammon.
Freshman Hannah Metzger, who moved to the leadoff spot for the first time, opened the game with a walk before a Hannah Chenault single put two on with none down. But Ammon settled in, striking out Murren and Maddie Reever before forcing Ashlyn Smith to pop to end the threat.
“That was big for us and for (Ammon’s) confidence,” Pequea coach Doug High said after the game. “It’s always tough when you feel you’re chasing the game, so that was big.”
Murren, meanwhile, was locked in from the start. She struck out the first batter she faced and worked around an early error that put a runner on to keep the Braves off the board.
The game then quickly settled into a pitcher’s duel between Murren and Ammon. Ammon dazzled in the second, retiring the side in order, while Murren sat down three Pequea batters in a row after hitting the leadoff batter in the bottom half.
Metzger walked again in the third inning but couldn’t advance past first as Ammon kept the momentum rolling. Once again Murren matched her. After an error and a sac bunt put a runner on second with one down in the bottom of the third, Murren struck out Pequea catcher Emily Ammon and forced a Hailey Yother pop out to end the threat.
The fourth inning saw the Eagles threaten again. Reever drilled a single up the middle before Smith bunted her over with one out to bring Gabby Kaltreider to the plate. Kaltreider then took an 0-1 pitch from Ammon and lined it sharply, though right at Braves’ second baseman Maddy Clark who promptly doubled off Reever, who was stuck in no-man’s land.
“That’s just how it is sometimes,” Kennell said after the game when asked about Berm’s luck on hard-hit balls right at fielders. “The best thing I can say is that I like getting the bat on the ball and putting it in play because things can happen. It beats the you-know-what out of striking out.”
The Eagles and Murren found themselves in a bit of jam in the bottom half of the inning as well. A dropped third strike, hit batter and wild pitch put runners on second and third with two down for Pequea’s Shania Smoker, but Murren had an answer yet again. She forced Smoker to roll over a weak ground ball on a 1-0 pitch and Maya Kemper fired to first for the final out of the frame.
Both pitchers settled back in the fifth, retiring the respective sides in order before things began to get wild in the sixth.
Metzger started top of the sixth with a ground out, but that’s when the Berm bats woke up. Chenault hammered a double to deep left-center field to wake up her teammates on the bench. One batter later, Murren stepped up and helped herself. On a 1-0 count, she laced an Ammon fastball up the middle to score Chenault and give the Eagles the lead.
Reever then followed with a single of her own, but Bermudian couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity and remained ahead by just one after a Smith groundout and Kaltreider popout ended the inning.
“Obviously we would’ve liked to get one or two more there,” Kennell said. “But they had good at-bats and sometimes those things just don’t go your way. Like we talked about, it’s a game of inches.”
The bottom half of the sixth inning saw the first signs of fatigue from Murren on a hot, humid day. Yothers started the Pequea rally by hammering a 2-1 pitch to the right-center field fence for a leadoff triple. Ammon then appeared as if she’d tie the game with a sacrifice fly to left, but her line drive tipped off the glove of Smith in left field, tying the game and putting a runner on second with none away. Three pitches later, the Braves had the lead as Clark took a 2-0 pitch to center field, scoring courtesy runner Alayna Herr and knocking Murren from the game.
Murren finished with a line of five innings pitched, two runs allowed, one earned, on two hits to go alongside seven strikeouts, no walks and two hit batters.
“She kept us guessing,” High said of Murren. “When you’re guessing up there and she’s going inside when you guess outside and outside when you guess inside, it’s tough to hit.”
Reever came into the circle and promptly extinguished the fire, striking out two before an inning-ending popout, but the damage was done.
The top of the seventh saw a revived Ammon retire the bottom of the Berm lineup in order and hand the Braves the come-from-behind victory.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of these girls,” Kennell said after the game. “They fought all game and things just didn’t go our way today.”
Clay Sauertieg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bermudian Springs 000 001 0 — 1 5 3
Pequea Valley 000 002 x — 2 2 0
Tori Murren, Maddie Reever (5) and Maddie Stephens. Olivia Ammon and Emily Ammon. WP: Ammon. LP: Murren. SO-BB: BS-Murren 7-0, Reever 2-0. PV-Ammon 5-2. 2B: BS-Hannah Chenault; PV-Maddy Clark. 3B: PV-Hailey Yothers.