DuBOIS - On Tuesday night at Heindl Field, Clarion's softball team looked every bit like a champion as they took on DuBois Central Catholic in the District 9 Class 1A title game - except for one inning.
And that inning was a very bad one. And, that very bad inning just happened to be in the top of the first.
The Bobcats and ace pitcher Kaitlyn Constantino surrendered seven runs to the powerhouse Cardinals in the game's opening at-bat. And while Constantino shut down DCC in convincing fashion over the final six frames, the early deficit was just too much to overcome in a 7-2 loss.
"They hit the ball and they hit the ball hard," Clarion head coach Dan Shofestall said of rude awakening to open the game, which started nearly three hours behind its scheduled time due to inclement weather earlier in the day. "Give them credit. They came out swinging the bats. But I liked our fight from there on out."
Constantino was uncharacteristically wild to start the game, walking two of the first three batters she faced, and the fourth batter of the game made her pay for it.
Mia Meholick stepped the plate and launched a three-run homer deep into the night sky to send the DCC crowd into frenzy.
The Cardinals' momentum would build as, after a strikeout, Alyssa Bittner doubled to left center and Maia Cogley coaxed yet another free pass. Jordan Kosko then stepped to the dish and clubbed a two-run double over the centerfielder's head. Chelsea Busatto kept the merry-go-round spinning by singling home Kosko before Sheyleigh Gulvas capped off the eruption by doubling home Busatto.
And just like that, the away team had a 7-0 lead before the Bobcats had even had a chance to bat.
At that point, it had all the makings of a mercy-rule game, but that situation never materialized, or even really came close to it.
Constantino would settle in and face just two over the minimum through the next five innings. DCC put two runners on in the seventh, but they were stranded, giving the Bobcats six shutout innings on defense to end the game.
"Kaitlyn got stronger and stronger and our defense played well behind her, for the most part," Shofestall said of the turnaround. "Sometimes it takes awhile to settle in, but we battled out of it."
The only problem was that their offense didn't fare much better.
Clarion had baserunners on in each of the first three innings but didn't seriously threaten until the fourth, when Jordan Best led off with a triple down the right-field line. She would be stranded, though, as a pair of strikeouts sandwiched a dribbler that didn't make it more than two feet beyond home plate, allowing the catcher to tag the batter.
The Bobcats finally broke through in the sixth when Brenna Campbell and Best led off with back-to-back singles, setting up and RBI base knock from Tori Vega and leaving runners on first and third with nobody out.
The Bobcats scored their second run on a double steal with Best charging home while Vega was being thrown out at second.
It would be Clarion's last run of the contest, though, setting the final at 7-2.
Constantino finished with nine strikeouts and four walks in the loss while also accounting for two hits at the plate. Best matched her with two hits, including the team's lone extra-base hit.
Despite the defeat, the No. 2-seeded Bobcats are still alive. They'll take on top-seeded Otto-Eldred today at 2 p.m. back at Heindl Field with a spot in the state tournament on the line.
As for the Cardinals, no player had more than one hit for DCC, which was seeded fifth in the tournament, but on paper only. They were forced to forfeit nine games earlier in the season due to a transfer violation. Without that setback, they would almost assuredly have been the top seed in the tourney.