SLIPPERY ROCK - Cranberry continued to write its own history on Friday in the PIAA Class 2A softball playoffs at the Slippery Rock University Softball Complex.
Coach Glenn Barcinas' Berries, playing in the state quarterfinals for the first time in program history, took it one step further, defeating Laurel by a 7-6 margin to advance to Monday's semifinals.
And not only did they get the victory, but they did so in memorable fashion, overcoming a late three-run deficit before holding on for dear life in the bottom of the seventh to secure the one-run victory.
"Pure elation," Barcinas said of what was going through his head as shortstop Malliah Shreck fielded a ground ball and fired to first for the final out of the game with the tying run on second and the winning run on first. "Just pure elation. These kids do not quit. They do not quit. They had every reason to hang their heads in the fifth, but they did not quit."
Barcinas was referring to an inning that started a series of several titanic-sized swings in momentum, but the four innings leading up to that explosive frame featured a pitchers' duel between the Berries' Andrea Watson and the Spartans' Kayla Ruperto.
The only blemish on either came in the second when Cranberry scraped together enough offense to plate the game's first run.
Schreck started the inning with a bloop single behind short before advancing to second on a wild pitch. Megan Hadden followed that up with a solid single up the middle to put runners at first and third with no outs. After the next two batters struck out, it looked as though Cranberry would squander the opportunity, but Jenna Seigworth proved to be clutch when it counted most. She stepped to the plate and roped a line-drive single to right that scored Schreck and gave Cranberry the 1-0 lead.
Laurel looked poised to counter in the third when Olivia Lombardo reached on a two-out error, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Brooke Atkins then stepped to the plate and lofted a ball into short left that seemed destined to find the grass from the time it left the bat.
Shreck had other plans, though.
The Berries' senior shortstop sprinted back, laid out and snared the ball out of the air before hitting the grass and holding on to keep Cranberry in the lead.
Laurel threatened again in the fourth, putting runners on second and third, but Watson escaped again without any damage.
That all changed in the fifth, though.
Alyssa Miller started the fireworks for the Spartans with a one-out single. Lombardo then reached on an error before Mackenzie Latess strode to the dish and walloped a three-run blast deep over the fence in left-center. And just like that, Laurel held a 3-1 lead.
The Spartans added a fourth run when Kaylee Withrow singled home Ruperto, who had doubled, to cap the rally, leaving the Berries trailing 4-1.
It was then that Cranberry showed its no-quit attitude that Barcinas commented on, and that attitude was sparked by - who else - Malliah Schreck.
The Berries' standout opened the top of the sixth with a single back up the box before Hadden also came through once again, launching a triple to right-center that brought the run home.
"We wouldn't be standing here in our victory circle without those two," Barcinas said of the tandem of Schreck and Hadden.
The Berries were far from done, though.
Maria Anderson brought home Hadden on an RBI groundout to clear the basepaths, but Cranberry filled them back up with singles from Emily Duncan and Watson, sandwiched around a Seigworth walk.
Maddie Cornelius then sent a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Duncan before Seigworth also dashed to the plate when the throw home got away from the catcher. And, once again, the Berries had reclaimed their second one-run lead, this time at 5-4.
The drama was just getting started, too.
Laurel opened the bottom of the sixth with a Frankilyn Duddy two-bagger. An error and a stolen base followed by a strikeout put runners on second and third with one out. The next batter grounded to a drawn-in Duncan at third base. Duncan fielded the ball cleanly and faked the throw to first before spinning and firing back to third, where Schreck was covering the bag. Schreck took the throw and tagged out the runner, who had fallen for Duncan's fake to first. Watson got the next batter to ground out again to Duncan, allowing the Berries to escape the jam unscathed.
Cranberry used the momentum from that sequence to kickstart another rally in the seventh, and it was none other than Schreck who started it again, sending a one-out line single to left. A popout left the Berries with two outs, but Anderson reached on an error to put runners on first and third.
Duncan then took center stage again, strolling to the plate and unloading on double over the rightfielder's head that brought home two massive insurance runs, giving Cranberry a 7-4 lead.
"That was the difference in the game," Barcinas said. "She had poor at-bats in her first two plate appearances, striking out twice. But you forget the past and worry about what you can do now, and she came through."
It didn't take long for the importance of those two runs to become apparent.
Laurel started the bottom of the seventh with a double by Latess and a single by Ruperto that left runners on second and third. Watson was able to get a strikeout and a flyout to put the Berries within an out of the victory, but Duddy sent a long single off the wall in left-center that brought in two runs and left Cranberry ahead by just one again.
A walk moved the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base, but Watson got the final batter to fittingly ground out to Schreck to start the Berries' celebration.
Schreck finished with three hits and three runs in the victory while Duncan added two hits and two RBIs. Hadden and Cornelius finished with a pair of hits and an RBI apiece.
Latess led the Spartans with a 4-for-4 effort and three RBIs, including a homer and a double.
With the loss, Laurel, the District 7 champion, finished the season at 21-3 while the Berries (15-5) advance to the state semis with the win, where they will take on Frazier on Monday at 4 p.m. back at SRU.