ALLENTOWN >> Many days have gone Spring-Ford’s way during the 2017 campaign.
After walking back to the dugouts deflated after their quest for the Rams’ first state final berth in school history fell just short, the words of head coach Tim Hughes said it all.
“It just wasn’t our day,” he said.
The day belonged to Hazleton — also in search of their first appearance in the championship game — as the Cougars rallied back from an early deficit with a five-run second inning en route to a 8-5 victory over the Rams in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals at Parkland High School on Monday afternoon.
The win sends the Cougars into the state final against the winner of District 3 champion Chambersburg and District 7 champion Hempfield on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Penn State University’s Nittany Lion Park. It will be the school’s first state final trip since the boys basketball program finished as then-Class 4A state runner-up to Cathedral Prep in the 1993 playoffs.
It also serves as quite the graduation present for the Hazleton seniors, who graduated later Monday night.
“This is amazing,” Hazleton junior pitcher Erika Book said. “I’m going to watch them (our seniors) graduate tonight. This is the best thing ever.”
Book was a key cog in the Cougars’ victory on Monday, striking out one while scattering nine hits in her complete-game effort. She also contributed one hit and an RBI in the win, which saw the Cougars strike for five runs in the second inning after falling behind 4-0.
Tiana Treon finished with one hit – albeit an important one – as she blooped a two-run single down the left-field line to cap off the second inning. Taylor Kost also finished with an RBI, her single in the fifth padding the Cougars’ lead.
“They fight all game long,” Hazleton head coach Heather Natt said. “They never give up and that’s one good thing about these kids. They want it bad.”
“We just rally off of each other,” Book said. “One person gets a hit and we all follow. We’ve all been hitting great, we just need to keep it up.”
Spring-Ford was led by a three-hit performance from Morgan Maziarz and a two-hit effort from fellow senior Maggie McConney. Megan Kern closed out her illustrious Spring-Ford career with a 1-for-2 effort from the plate with an RBI.
The Rams built a 3-0 lead in the first courtesy of a Sam Lindsay RBI single with the bases loaded and a Sophia Cinti flare that deflected off the center fielder’s glove to plate two more. The lead became 4-0 in the next inning as Kern roped a single to center to score Maziarz, who singled up the middle before moving to second on a wild pitch the previous at bat.
But the offense stalled.
Following the five-run inning capped by Treon’s looper to left, Book worked a five-pitch inning in the third. Book then got out of a two-on, out-out jam in the fourth by inducing a sharply-hit liner by Kern to right and a groundout from McConney to end the inning. She worked a relatively easy fifth before escaping another jam in the sixth, getting the last Spring-Ford batter to ground out with the bases loaded with two outs.
Book worked a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh, capped by a popup to shortstop Marissa Trivelpiece to commence the celebration for the Cougars.
“This team was fantastic for us the whole year,” Hughes said. “These kids, even in losses, were always together. I’m proud of them. They did well. They’re upset because they feel like they could have won this game, I do too. … It just wasn’t our day.”
NOTES >> The Rams graduate seniors Kern, Maziarz, McConney, Sophia Cinti, Ashley Vanella and Abby Zollers. Hughes was high on praise for his senior class, which compiled 72 wins in their careers. “This was obviously one of my best senior classes,” Hughes said. “This one is probably one of our elite few. I had a great one in ‘09, a couple good ones in ‘10. We’ve had a lot of great senior classes and this one is right up there. It’s just the heart that they had. They’re dirty, doing what they can in the field. Practicing, no one blinks an eye about anything, missing dances, after school events, they never complained.”