SLIPPERY ROCK - Tuesday's PIAA Class 2A softball semifinal between Cranberry and Frazier had everything that you'd expect out of a game of that magnitude. It had excitement, drama, controversy and - unfortunately for the Berries - heartbreak.
In agonizing fashion, Cranberry plated two runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game, only to have the Commodores respond by walking it off in the bottom of the inning for a 5-4 victory at Slippery Rock University's Softball Complex, bringing an end to Cranberry's historic season.
"That's been the mojo of this team all year, to never quit," Cranberry head coach Glenn Barcinas said of his squad, which reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history. "They never go away. I'd have loved to have had one more inning, because we had grabbed the momentum, but you've got to tip your cap to Frazier. They were good on the bases with timely hitting."
The game was a wild one from the get-go as the Berries (15-6) loaded the bases with just one out in the top of the first off Frazier starter Logan Hartman. Andrea Watson and Rachael McCauley while Kaylie Bruce reached on error in between to pack the sacks.
That's when things got weird.
Malliah Schreck stepped to the plate and popped the ball up to the shortstop, which should have kicked in the infield-fly rule. There was only one problem - the umpiring crew inexplicably never called the infield-fly rule into play, which turned into an even bigger problem when the shortstop had the ball spin out of her glove and land in the dirt beside her while all three Berries' runners were standing on their respective bases.
That's when things got wild.
The shortstop picked up the ball and tossed to third for the force and the second out of the inning. The third baseman then fired across the diamond to first base, where Schreck had already reached and McCauley was standing as well. But, during the throw to first, Watson broke for home. So, instead of tagging the runner at first, the first baseman quickly fired to the plate, but it wasn't in time to get Watson sliding across the plate.
By that point, McCauley was on her way to second, but the catcher fired down to second base where the shortstop was waiting on the bag. The shortstop took the throw and tagged out McCauley. After a lengthy discussion between the four-man umpiring crew, the run stood and Cranberry held a 1-0 lead.
It didn't last long, however, as Frazier (20-4) came out with a single from Hartman off Watson to open the bottom of the inning before Juliann Johnson was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second.
A sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third before a popout to second base provided the second out. Watson wasn't able to escape unscathed, though, as Rylee Evans brought home both runs on a line single to left-center, giving the Commodores a 2-1 lead after one.
Both sides went down in order in the second before the Berries struck again in the third.
Maddie Cornelius led off the frame with a bunt single before Bruce went opposite field with a single to right, putting runners on first and third.
McCauley then stepped to the plate and sent a scorcher on the ground through the 3-4 hole and into right field. The hit appeared to tie the game, but once again, more controversy ensued.
After another lengthy meeting between the umpires, the ball was ruled to have hit Bruce on her way to second base, resulting in an out and a dead ball, which sent Cornelius back to third and put McCauley on first.
Schreck took some sting out of the situation, though, by stepping the dish and blasting an RBI double off the wall in left-center field to even the score at 2-all, where the score would still stand midway through the inning.
Once again, however, Frazier had the answer, and it came in the form of patience and speed.
Megan Celaschi led off the bottom of the third with a walk before Watson got a popout and groundout to seemingly neutralize the threat. But, another walk to Kathryn Barch put runners on first and third.
The Commodores got aggressive with the opportunity. When Berries' catcher Jenna Reynolds tried to throw in behind Barch at first to pick her off after a pitch, Celaschi broke for home and slid safely under the return throw from McCauley at home, giving the Commodores a 3-2 edge without the benefit of a hit.
Frazier's lead crept out to 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth, and once again it was due to some crafty baserunning.
After reaching on a single and advancing to second on an error, Celaschi moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, but rounded third hard on the play. When first baseman McCauley tried to fire in behind her on the play, Celaschi immediately sprinted home to provide Frazier with its fourth run.
"They were aggressive on the bases and they got the timely hits," Barcinas said. "That was the difference in the game."
The score would stay at 4-2 until the final frame when Cranberry came alive with its backs against the wall.
Cornelius ignited the last-ditch effort with a one-out single up the middle before Bruce did the same, putting the Berries in business with runners on first and second.
A groundout to second moved the runners over but put Cranberry down to its last out, but they had the right person for the job stepping to the plate in Schreck.
The senior standout kept Cranberry's season alive by bringing home both runs on a frozen rope to right field, tying the game at 4-all.
Unfortunately, the season wouldn't stay alive for long.
In the bottom half of the frame, Hartman led off with a single before being sacrificed to second by Johnson. After a walk put a runner on first also, Emi Curcio hit a bouncer to third that was misplayed, ricocheting off the third baseman's arm and leaking into the outfield, allowing Hartman sprint from second all the way home, where the victory celebration erupted.
With the win, the Frazier advances to the state title game on Thursday at Penn State University.
The Berries, which outhit the Commodores 12-6, were paced by Schreck's three RBIs and two hits, including the double. Cornelius, Bruce and McCauley also accounted for two hits apiece.
Watson pitched solidly in the circle, going all seven innings, striking out four and allowing just the six hits, but five free passes and a hit batter proved costly.
The loss not only brings an end to the most successful season in history for the Berries' program, but it also brings to a close the high school careers of seniors Watson, McCauley, Malliah Schreck, Carley Shreck and Tamaria Flinspach.
"They've been huge," Barcinas said of what that group has meant to the program. "Malliah, Andrea and Rachael were all four-year starters, so we're going to have some holes to fill. It creates opportunities for the younger kids coming up, but we're definitely going to dearly miss all of them. Our softball has ended, but it's time to turn the page and start a new chapter in life, and I wish them nothing but the best."