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A ‘Cinderella’ season continues for Garnet Valley

Garnet Valley’s Becca Halford slides safely into home plate in the top of the 12th inning with the game-winning run. The Jaguars erupted for six runs in the inning to claim a 9-5 victory over Downingtown West in a District 1 Class 6A semifinal game Friday.

DOWNINGTOWN >> Garnet Valley’s Cinderella post-season run continues, thanks to loads of extra softball.

The 15th-seeded Jaguars, who advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals with an upset win over No. 2 Spring-Ford, clinched a berth in the PIAA Class 6A tournament by exploding for six runs in the 12th inning, then held on to top No. 7 Downingtown West, 9-5.

With the win, the Jags (16-6) move on to the semifinals, where they will face another team on a hot streak, No. 19 Council Rock North, a 2-1 winner over No. 6 Neshaminy Friday.

“We’ve now won something like 14 of our last 16,” said Garnet coach George White. “We just beat the No. 2 seed, now another very tough team in Downingtown West. We just have to see if we can keep it rolling. It’s great to know we’re going to states. This is my third year, and we haven’t been there yet, so this feels amazing.”

West (15-6) took the early lead, plating a pair in the second on singles from Brooke Dailey (3-for-4, RBI) Caitlin Coker, Nina Gallagher (3-for-4, RBI) and Hannah Greider, then another in the third when Dailey singled in Natalie Beebe.

The Jags answered back with one in the third when Morgan Mesaros singled in Diane Torregrossa (3-for-7), then two in the fourth when Kayleigh Saboja (2-for-6, double, three RBI) drove in Kelley McLaughlin (3-for-6, two runs), and Becca Halford scored when a pick-off throw to third went wild.

But after the early fireworks, both pitchers, West’s Natalie Beebe and Halford (12 innings pitched, five runs), settled into a groove and went to work, with the two teams trading goose eggs for the next three innings of regulation, and another four after the game went into extra innings.

The Jags threatened in the eighth, loading up the bases with two outs, but Bebee induced a harmless flyout to get out of the jam.
West looked like they might put the game away in the bottom of the tenth. With runners on second and third with one out, Caitlin Coker ripped a ball down the right field line, and the Whippets began to celebrate. That celebration was cut short when the umpire ruled it went foul.

Another Whippet threat in the 11th ended with some great defense by the Jags. With bases loaded and just one out, Halford fielded a sharp comebacker, then threw home to get the force. Catcher Lindsey Hunt caught the ball, and put herself in perfect position to fire to first for the 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

“I could see out of the corner of my eye that we were going to get her at first,” said Hunt, a Drexel recruit. “It’s a play we practice over and over again, so it’s something I can visualize really easy and I knew I had her.”

All that practice put Hunt in position to make the play, according to White.

“The way she pops out of the box to make that play is incredible,” said White. “She gets out of the box early and makes it an easy throw. We talk about that all the time — if the play is there take it, but if you’re not sure, just hold on to it. But she made it with ease.”

And off we went to the 12th.

McLaughlin got things going with a double, but the Whippets threw out the runner who had started at second on the International tiebreaker, at home. Then the Jags loaded the bases when Halford reached on a fielder’s choice, and Reece Gabrielle was hit by a pitch. Saboja made it count, smacking a double to the gap in right center to knock in two.

“I’m just thinking that I have to be confident up there,” said Saboja. “This is when my team needed me the most, so I just knew I had to make contact and put the ball into play. I knew as soon as I felt it hit the bat I had made good contact.”

The Jags weren’t done there, though, tacking on four more runs on singles from Torregrossa, Audrey Shenk, Hunt and Annie Bectold.

“Everyone just needed something to get us going, and I think that big defensive play did it for us,” said Hunt. “It feels amazing that we are going to states. We’ve been playing the role of the underdog, which it makes it even sweeter. This gives us a lot of confidence going forward, but it can’t really change the way we play. We just have to keep approaching every game the same, no matter the seed, no matter the game.”

West did score two runs in the bottom half of the twelfth on a couple Jags errors, but it wasn’t enough, and the Whippets will now have to fight its way back through the consolation bracket to earn the top five finishes that earns a spot in states. Up first is a trip to Neshaminy on Tuesday.

“We’ve had some tough losses this year,” said West coach Joey Germani. “They forget quickly and bounce back quickly. Now we just have to re-group and win two games and make it to states.”

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