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Penncrest advances on Hartman’s no-hitter

MEDIA >> SJ Whittemore saw the ball looping toward her, then dropping like a stone as she backpedaled into the outfield grass.

The Penncrest second baseman didn’t have to be reminded what was attached to that blooper off the bat of Chichester’s Victoria Hudson. Whittemore knew that if the ball found the Barrall Field grass, the potential tying run would reach to lead off the top of the seventh inning. She also knew that the next hit Penncrest ace Maya Hartman surrendered in the District 1 Class 5A first-round affair would be the first.

“I just thought about backing up and just trying to get to the ball as hard and as fast as I could so that I could make the play and have a quick, 1-2-3 inning,” Whittemore said Monday. “I wasn’t quite sure at the end when I was going for it. I kind of hesitated because I wasn’t sure if the right fielder was calling it or not, but I just went for it because better safe than sorry.”

And that other thing, you know, the one nobody is supposed to talk about in a dugout — was that on Whittemore’s mind as she leapt backward, her mitt outstretched?

“It was because I think that a playoff no-hitter is pretty incredible,” she said. “I wanted her to have that moment, and I wanted the entire team to share that moment with her.”

One sensational catch and two outs later, the Lions rejoiced in that no-hit moment, Hartman and the third-seeded Lions blanking No. 14 Chi in a 1-0 win. It’s Hartman’s second no-hitter of the season.

The win sends Penncrest (15-6) to the second round to host Rustin, the 11 seed that toppled No. 6 Springfield, 5-3.
Where Whittemore might have been concerned about her role in making memories, her hurler wasn’t — not because of the bromide about every no-hitter having that goose-egg-saving gem but via her general faith in the defense.

“That was a huge catch,” Hartman said. “I wasn’t that worried about it. I figured somebody would get it. (Whittemore) was really aggressive for it.”

The rest of the seventh made Whittemore’s glove work even more vital. Hartman had faced one over the minimum all day, striking out eight and walking one. But she issued a second free pass to three-hitter Sophie Alfamatino and saw her sacrificed into scoring position before Hayley Larrabee walked.

She wriggled out of it when six-hitter Madi Knapp popped out near the pitching circle, first baseman Emma Stauffer plucking the ball out of a converging mass of infielders for the final out.

Short of Whittemore’s sortie to shallow right and a Hudson fly out in the fourth, no balls left the infield for Chi. That continued a theme from the regular-season meeting, where Hartman gave up a leadoff home run to Chi’s Ava Franz, then posted six straight no-hit innings, bringing her total to a baker’s dozen.

“The first game, they were definitely very aggressive,” Hartman said. “So this game, I knew I could start out with rise balls and they would probably go for them. They were swinging at a lot of first pitches.”

Less forthcoming than the defensive virtuosity an offensive spark from Penncrest. Much of that owed to Larrabee, who stowed her nerves and matched Hartman nearly zero for zero.

“I’ll admit, I was really stressed out about it,” Larrabee said. “I had to put all that aside and I just had to do well. … I just feel like all of (my fielders) behind me will back me up on all the balls that were hit.”

Larrabee allowed six hits and safeties in each of the first five innings, but it took until the fifth for Penncrest to break through. Julia Eckels led off with a double, advanced to third on a Stauffer groundout and scored when Colette Ernst punched a single through the right side of the infield.

“These past few games, I’ve been in kind of a slump,” Ernst said. “I wanted to hit the ball and score for my team. When I hit it, I saw it go through and it was exhilarating. The fact that we scored one run on my at-bat was really great.”

Stauffer doubled in the first but was stranded; ditto Melody Gleason in the third. In the fourth, Liz Hoole led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. She would’ve scored easily had Chi’s Gianna Bedwell not nabbed a hot-shot liner from Kira Sbandi that seemed ticketed for the gap.

Ultimately it was Hartman’s day, a capstone performance for a senior headed to Williams College, producing her best game of the season on the biggest stage … and proving that she’s not content to head to the next level quite yet.

“I’m definitely very excited that it was today,” Hartman said. “It was a close game so that could’ve been bad if there were hits. I’m just really excited to keep playing.”

“It’s really incredible,” Ernst added. “And she’s worked so hard, and we all knew it. She’s incredible and she deserves everything she’s gotten.”

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