By MIKE PALMER
Times Leader Sports Writer
NEW PHILADELPHIA Just two swings of the bat would be the difference as defending state champion Strasburg used the longball to end a fine season for River with a 3-1 decision in the Division IV district semifinals Tuesday night.
RIVER SHORTSTOP Haylee Bowers tags Strasburg’s Cheyenne Gardner out at second base during Tuesday’s District IV?district semifinal in New Philadelphia. Additional images can be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
The Pilots traveled 93 miles to the Art Teynor Complex to face off against the perennial powerhouse Tigers and their ace Kristina LaRocca. The senior hurler wasted no time introducing herself to the River lineup as she struck out the side in the first inning.
In the top of the second, LaRocca sat down the leadoff batter but Rosey Romick, boasting a .369 average for the season, registered the first hit of the game. Romick was erased on a fielder's choice as the Strasburg defense fielded a well-placed bunt by Mikayla Cieszeski and threw out the lead runner. Cieszeski would become the first of five baserunners the Pilots would strand in the next four innings.
"LaRocca is a very strong pitcher," veteran head coach Dave Wright said. "I know she had double-digit strikeouts and we just could not get that breakout hit against her."
River would manage just six hits to 13 strikeouts against the Tigers' ace.
Monica Curtis, the Lady Pilots' ace inside the circle, struck out her first batter she faced and, with the help of the defense, retired the side in order in the bottom of the first. The first batter up in the second was No. 4 hitter Olivia Ray. After a towering foul ball that went 250 feet down the left side of the fence, Ray took a two-two pitch over the left field fence to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
"It was a changeup and she just stayed back on it," Wright explained. "The other home run though, that was a nice outside pitch. It was down out of the strike zone. She just powered it over the right-center field fence. As soon as she hit that ball we knew it was gone."
Strasburg clung to its slim lead until the bottom of sixth when the Hannah Duff blasted a two-run bomb, adding the insurance runs, which would prove to be the difference.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Tigers finally blinked. After LaRocca plunked Cieszeski to lead off the inning, Emelie Heater reached on an error. LaRocca recovered to strike out the next two batters before Curtis notched her second hit and an RBI. The excitement would not last long as the Tigers' pitcher recorded her 13th K to end the season for River.
"That's a tough way to lose," Wright related. "I am so proud of my team. We finish at 25-5 and we have played very well all season."
River worked out of several jams on defense recording two double plays, the final out in the sixth coming on a strike-em-out-throw-em out twin-killing. Catcher Mackenzie Marshall notched her third runner caught stealing on the play.
"They are very cohesive and well-knit group," Wright added. "I hate to see the season end."
River 000 000 1-1 4 1
Strasburg 010 003 x-3 6 1
R-Curtis lp (2K, 1W), Goudy (7), (1K, 1W) and Marshall. Curtis 2S, RBI;
S-LaRocca wp (13K, 1W) and Ray. Duff HR, 2RBI; Ray HR RBI