DuBOIS It's not often you can use the word helpless to describe a softball game, but on Saturday morning, that's exactly how Otto-Eldred's lineup looked while being mowed down by Clarion's standout pitcher Kait Constantino in the District 9 Class 1A true second-place game.
Against the junior hurler, far more bats were slammed off the turf of Heindl Field in frustration that actually made contact with the ball as Constantino struck out 15 while allowing just two hits in a 4-0 victory over the Terrors.
The victory earned the Bobcats a place in the PIAA state tournament, where they will take on Commodore Perry today at 12:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock University.
"She's done it pretty much all year," Clarion head coach Dan Shofestall said of his pitcher's effort. "We struggled with the bats today, but when she's on, she's pretty dominant. She really is, and I guess that was the name of the game. She owned the strike zone."
That was obvious from the start of the game as, after the opening batter of the game grounded out to second base, she sat down eight straight batters on strikes against an O-E team that entered the game as the top seed in the tournament with a record of 18-3.
Clarion, meanwhile, finally cracked the scoreboard in the third thanks to Carly Best, who served as the Bobcats' sparkplug throughout the game.
Best went opposite field by roping a two-out single over the first baseman's head before she promptly swiped second base. That set up an RBI triple off the bat of Brenna Campbell, who also went opposite field, tucking the ball just inside the right-field line before watching it rattle all the way into the corner.
That run would prove to be all Constantino would need.
She would lose her no-hit bid in the bottom of the fourth when Emmalee Sheeler singled, but that would pan out to be just a small hiccup in an otherwise lights-out performance.
Over the final four frames, she recorded multiple strikeouts in all but one inning, the sixth, while facing just two over the minimum as she allowed a second single in the seventh.
During that stretch, the Bobcats provided her with some valuable insurance on the scoreboard.
Carly Best scored again in the fifth, getting on base with a bunt single before eventually being chased home two batters later on an RBI single to center off the stick of Jordan Best.
The Best duo struck again in the seventh when Carly once again reached on a bunt single and stole second, leading to an RBI triple that Jordan smashed over the leftfielder's head. She was then brought home on a run-scoring groundout by Tori Vega that set the eventual final score at 4-0.
Carly Best finished with three hits while scoring three of the Bobcats' four runs in the win.
"That's why we have her in that spot," Shofestall said of her providing a spark out of the two-hole in the lineup. "A lot of our innings revolve around her. She's done a lot of things there for us this year."
Jordan Best added two RBIs on two hits while Payton Simko tacked on a pair of knocks for Clarion, which improved to 17-5 on the season with the victory.
"We're young in a lot of areas, but we fight in there," Shofestall said. "That's why we're going to states good pitching and we keep fighting. That's the key to our team."
Sheeler and Gabby Nickerson provided the only offense for the Terrors with a single apiece. Nickerson was the only player to reach second, and that was the result of a Bobcat error, their only one of the game. Constantino actually only allowed eight balls to even be put in play with just one of those reaching the outfield on the fly.
The result of that dominance is the Bobcats returning to the state tournament for the first time since 2016.
"It means a lot," Shofestall said of returning to the tourney. "When we started this season, we saw right away that we had a lot of work to do. So, they worked hard every night at it, and they're a team that believes. They don't get down on each other, they don't mope around and they get along together. You have to have good chemistry. You don't win big games and you don't go to the state playoffs if you don't have good chemistry, and I think that's what our team has. I think we have the right players on this team. I tell them that all the time. It's having the right kinds of players that make good things happen, and I believe we have the right players, and they understand that."