SLIPPERY ROCK - At first glance, it will look like Clarion High School's softball team will be playing in the state semifinals.
After all, the Bobcats' boxscore against West Greene in the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals will tell you that that they outhit the Pioneers by a wide margin. It will tell you that the Bobcats didn't strike out even once against the two-time defending state champions. And, it will tell you that standout starting pitcher Kaitlyn Constantino held West Greene to just four hits while fanning six in a complete-game effort.
Unfortunately, the boxscore will also tell you that Clarion came out on the short end of the only numbers that really matter - runs.
Despite a valiant comeback effort, one bad inning proved to be too much to overcome for the Bobcats as they fell to the Pioneers, 5-4, at Slippery Rock University's Softball Complex on Friday.
"West Greene took advantage of our mistakes, which good teams do," Clarion head coach Dan Shofestall said. "One bad inning hurt. We kept fighting, though. We're a young team and we just didn't quit. That's the story of this team this year. They have a lot of heart and they never quit."
Through the first four innings, neither team blinked.
For the Bobcats (18-6), batter after batter put the ball in play, but they only managed two hits through three innings. In the fourth, Brenna Campbell reached on an error before moving to second on a sacrifice bunt from Jordan Best. Tori Vega followed with a single to right, but rightfielder Mackenzie Carpenter came up gunning and cut down Campbell at the plate on a bang-bang play.
"The rightfielder closed the gap between the ball and the runner very well, and it took a perfect throw to get her," Shofestall said of the play. "When you have a game like that against a good team, you take a shot like that and make them throw you out."
The Pioneers (21-4), meanwhile, had more success putting runners on base, but didn't fare any better on bringing them home.
West Greene put runners on in the first, third and fourth, but none of them made it past second.
That changed in the fifth.
For the third time in the game, Constantino put the leadoff runner on base, and this time it came courtesy of a base-on-balls, and it came back to bite her.
After a groundout, she issued another free pass before a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third.
A bunt was then laid down to third baseman Vega, who fielded and pump faked to first before turning and throwing to third in an attempt to get the runner leaning too far off the base. The throw was high, however, allowing the runner to dive back in safely before the tag was applied, loading the bases.
Constantino got the next batter to hit the ball weakly on the ground, but it was bobbled at third, allowing the game's first run to cross the plate.
Jade Renner then provided the big blow with a single to left-center that was compounded by an error in left that allowed the ball to nearly roll all the way to the fence.
The play cleared the bases and left Renner on second, but a passed ball moved her to third before a wild pitch allowed her to come home, capping the rally at five runs ... on just one hit.
The Bobcats tried to counter in the bottom half of the frame when Payton Simko led off with a double down the right-field line, but she was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. That move proved costly when the next batter was hit by a pitch and, after fielder's choice, Constantino singled to put runners at first and second. A groundout back to the circle ended the threat, though.
Neither team made much noise in the sixth and Constantino dispatched of the Pioneers quietly in the top of the seventh, setting up one final charge from the Bobcats.
And what a charge it was.
Simko led off the inning with another double, this one to left-center, before back-to-back bloop singles from Ava Kiser and Noel Anthony loaded the bases.
Constantino then helped her own cause, lining a single to right that finally put the Bobcats on the board and left the bases still loaded.
Carly Best and Campbell brought in Clarion's second and third runs, but they proved costly as they were both RBI groundouts that put the Bobcats' backs against the wall while still trailing by two with a runner at third.
Jordan Best kept the comeback hopes alive with an RBI single that pulled the Bobcats to within 5-4, but a sharp grounder back to the circle ended the game with the tying run on first.
"I've coached a lot of teams over the years, but this is a team that, from Day 1, improved more than any team I've had throughout a season. And that's not taking anything away from other teams I've coached, but this group improved so much. The key to this team was that they're young in a lot of areas, but they don't panic, as you saw today," Shofestall said of his young squad while also praising the value of his two seniors, Carly Best and Lindsey Kemmer, who were both four-year players for him.
Constantino led the Bobcats offense in the loss with three hits while Vega and Simko added two knocks apiece. As a team, Clarion outhit West Greene, 11-4, with three of the Pioneers' hits coming from Renner.