SLIPPERY ROCK -Just two days removed from a stellar pitching performance that punched Clarion's ticket to the PIAA Class 1A state playoffs, Kaitlyn Constantino dished out another dominant outing on Monday as she went the distance, allowing just three hits while striking out 12 to lift the Bobcats into the second round with a 6-0 victory over Commodore Perry at Slippery Rock University.
With the win, Clarion notched its first state playoff win since the 2011 season where the Bobcats carried an undefeated season all the way to the title game before falling to Minersville.
"I know the girls were hungry for (the win)," Clarion coach Dan Shofestall said, "I could see it this morning on their faces. I could tell right then we were ready."
Constantino was noticeable early and often as the junior retired 14 of the first 15 batters she faced, nine by way of the strikeout.
Likewise, Clarion's offense was noticeable early and often when Jordan Best smacked an RBI double in the bottom of the first inning, bringing in her sister Carly Best. Jordan Best scored later in the inning when Tori Vega's ground ball was misplayed by Commodore Perry's shortstop.
Clarion's Lindsey Kemmer led off the next inning with a single, went to second when Payton Simko reached on an error and both runners moved up on Ava Kiser's sacrifice bunt. Noel Anthony brought home Kemmer with a sacrifice fly.
After Constantino struck out the side in the top of the third, Brenna Campbell helped get some traffic on the base paths by reaching on an error that was followed by Jordan Best's walk. With two on and two out, Kemmer struck again with a two-RBI single giving the Bobcats a 5-0 lead.
Commodore Perry's offense began to get more and more successful, minisculely however, as the innings went along. In the fourth inning, the Panthers managed to draw a walk, snapping Constantino's perfect game at that point. Constantino struck out the next batter to end the frame. And in the fifth inning, the Panthers tabbed their first hit of the game on Faith Cox's two-out single. Yet, Constantino wiggled out of that one as well with her 10th strikeout of the game.
In the bottom of the fifth, Campbell walked to the plate with the plan to give Constantino even more breathing room. On a 1-2 count, Campbell launched a ball into left field that bounced on the very top of the wall before landing on the other side for a solo home run that solidified Clarion's lead at 6-0. Constantino continued her dominance and shut out the Panthers the rest of the way.
Clarion received the support of students that took a school bus to Slippery Rock to cheer on their fellow classmates in the important playoff bout. Constantino even drew "MVP" chants as she walked past the student section following the game.
"I want to thank them and the school," Shofestall said of the student section. "It was a huge, huge pick up to have that kind of support behind us."
Clarion moves into the state quarterfinals and will square off against West Greene, the top seed out of District 7, on Thursday at a site and time to be announced.
"We have to work the next two nights," Shofestall said of the team's plan moving forward. "(Tonight) is the most important practice of the year. We have to keep believing in what we're doing and give a perfect effort each night in practice and in each game."