In the postseason, every mistake is magnified.
Two evenly matched squads locked horns in the opening round of the District 3-3A softball playoffs Thursday afternoon at Littlestown’s home yard. Visiting Kutztown played a slightly cleaner contest and prevailed, 6-3, to advance. The loss ends the Thunderbolts’ season.
After starting hurlers Chelsey Stonesifer and the Cougars’ MaKayla Drey were each perfect through three innings, with Stonesifer fanning seven, the guests took control with a four-run fourth that proved pivotal.
The inning started innocently enough when Caitlyn Lubak laced a liner to right for the first hit of the contest. Ryleigh Bohning laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and the throw sailed wide of first to put runners at second and third with nobody out. Brianna Stauffer plated both with a double to the fence in left, stole third and came home on Brittany Noecker’s infield dribbler. Noecker moved up on an outfield throwing error and later dented the dish when Joanna Herrlin skied a meteor over the right fielder’s head. Stonesifer prevented further scoring but the damage was done.
“It started with an error and snowballed until we could finally get the third out and stop the bleeding,” said Littlestown head coach James Loveless. “They came in here and did their job. Now they’re moving on to the second round.”
Loveless wasn’t deceived by the Cougars’ losing record entering the fray.
“They are a good team,” he said. “We knew they would be a challenge.”
The Bolts got on the board in their half of the fourth when Stonesifer was safe at second when a mile-high pop-up clanged off the second sacker’s glove. The junior pitcher and leadoff hitter came around on Carli Thayer’s two-base knock off the fence in left.
When Rebecca Green homered in the fifth, the margin was cut in half. The ball appeared to carom up and over the fence in deep right. Initially, Green was told to return to second. Following a brief huddle, the call was reversed and Green circled the bags.
The Cougars (9-12) answered with a two-spot in the sixth to make the long bus ride worth the journey and squelch any Littlestown momentum. Noecker was safe on a grounder that traveled 10 feet leading off the inning. She sashayed to second on a wild pitch, was sacrificed to third and scored on Drey’s ringing double. The winning hurler was sacrificed over and raced home on a wild pitch.
Littlestown (15-6) had life in the final frame when Megan Gorsuch, Smith and Green all singled to pack the sacks. Kailey Miller represented the tying run and when she smoked a drive to left, the fans were thinking a salami. Alas, the ball was caught well short of the fence. Megan Gorsuch trotted home on the sacrifice fly to account for the final tally and the Thunderbolts ran out of magic.
Green paced the Bolts with a pair of hits. Stonesifer fanned 10 without a free pass.
“We have an extremely young team this year and we’ve struggled with making the routine plays,” said Cougar head coach Kevin Conrad, whose squad won the district title in 2019. “We got some timely pitching and timely hitting. We play a strong schedule in the Berks County League filled with 5A and 6A schools. We played them all tough. I do that on purpose to get us ready for the district tournament. We didn’t get a chance to defend our title last year (due to COVID), so we are still the defending champions. Hopefully we can do it again.”
Conrad was complimentary of the effort on the bump by Drey, just a sophomore.
“She threw a lot of first-pitch strikes,” he said. “That puts the batters on their heels a bit. It was huge for her. We only had three girls with experience coming into the season. They’re finally getting it. This was a huge step for us.”
The Bolts lose just two seniors, Bailey Smith and Wendi Snyder, and expect to make more noise in 2022.
“We’re building a program here,” said Loveless. “Our expectation is to qualify for the district tournament every year and host the opening round. Our goal is to make it to the second round and eventually to the state playoffs. We had only three girls with varsity experience. To finish 15-6 exceeded expectations. They got a taste of (what it takes to win). The future is bright.”
Kutztown 000 402 0 — 6 7 1
Littlestown 000 110 1 — 3 5 2
MaKayla Drey and Brianna Stauffer; Chelsey Stonesifer and Bailey Smith. WP: Drey. LP: Stonesifer. SO-BB: Drey 7-0; Stonesifer 10-0. 2B: K-Brianna Stauffer, Drey; L-Carli Thayer. HR: L-Rebecca Green.