BOYERTOWN >> The Spring-Ford softball team has consistently put the hurt on Pioneer Athletic Conference opposition in recent years.
In fact, the Rams brought the pain to their league counterparts for 66 straight games at the conclusion of the regular season.
On Tuesday in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoff semifinals, Boyertown brought the Hurter to Spring-Ford.
In terms of high-school experience, she trails Spring-Ford ace Jules Scogna by a couple years. In terms of skill and performance, though, Boyertown sophomore Ella Hurter is working hard to close any gap between her and the Rams’ all-state and future NCAA Division 1 mound talent.
Hurter and Scogna squared off in another trademark pitchers’ duel Tuesday to open the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs. In a game where both hurlers pitched well enough to win, it was Hurter and the Bears pulling out a 2-0 victory at Bear Park to deal the Rams their first loss of the year.
Boyertown wins it! Ella Hurter with a 14 strikeout 3-hit shutout to knock off top seeded and unbeaten Spring-Ford, 2-0.
The Bears are into the PAC final for the first time since 2013 pic.twitter.com/ZDLS7ZHhLG
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) May 17, 2022
By knocking off the District 1-6A top-ranked Rams, Boyertown (14-4) advanced to the PAC championship for the first time since 2013. It will face Upper Perkiomen – a 1-0 winner over Owen J. Roberts in the other semifinal – Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Boyertown.
Spring-Ford’s most recent previous loss in PAC tournament or regular season play dated back to May 16, 2017 (a PAC semifinal defeat to Perkiomen Valley).
The pitchers yielded a combined eight hits and one walk while striking out 22.
In the “tale of the tape,” however, Hurter had the better numbers in several aspects. The sophomore racked up 14 strikeouts to Scogna’s eight, and yielded two less hits than her Liberty Division adversary. It was key to Boyertown repaying Spring-Ford for a similarly-close 1-0 loss when they faced off at Royersford on April 29.
“I feel they (teammates) have my back,” Hurter said. “I was relaxed out there.”
The playoff opener, postponed from Monday due to inclement weather, was ultimately decided by the run Boyertown (14-4) scored in the third inning. An insurance tally in the seventh offered a bit more comfort for the Bears as they dealt Spring-Ford (18-1) its first loss of the spring, and first win over the Rams since a May 10, 2016 game.
“I knew they would come in tough,” SF head coach Tim Hughes noted. “It was similar to last game. They (Bears) deserved it. They were fantastic.”
In Hurter’s five-pitch repertoire, she reported all the pitches were helpful toward running up her strikeout total. She retired Spring-Ford on whiffs in the first inning and recorded one in each subsequent at-bat, two apiece in all but the second and the fifth.
Boyertown head coach Kim Musselman couldn’t recall Hurter fanning as many opposing batters in a high-school game she managed.
“She had her pitches moving,” Musselman said. “She kept them on their toes.”
Pitch economy was another attribute both hurlers brought to the mound. Scogna threw just under 90 while Hurter got the job done with 97.
“Both pitchers were going well,” Hughes added, “but she (Hurter) had us confused.”
The winning run was set up by Carlee Frantz (2-for-3) hitting a one-out triple to right field in the third. Frantz went on to score off a Hurter hit where she beat the relay toss to home plate.
In the top of the seventh, a couple misplays enabled the Bears to add the insurance run. Avery Frey reached base off one, and after advancing off sacrifice plays by Rachael Moser (bunt) and Lauren Homa (fly), Frey came in off Alyx Morgan’s grounder to second.
“I thought it would be close as long as Ella was on,” Musselman noted. “It was phenomenal pitching.”
Spring-Ford put some pressure on Boyertown in its first at-bat, Caitlin Ashley hitting a triple. Hurter’s response was her first three strikeouts.
“I push harder than usual in a situation like that,” she said. “In the seventh, it (run) felt nice.”
The day’s delay in opening the playoffs didn’t appear to bother Boyertown. It faced a similar situation over the weekend, when its PAC Liberty finale with Perkiomen Valley was suspended by inclement weather Friday and completed Saturday.
“The girls were up today,” Musselman said. “They were prepped for it.”
“I think the team had enough energy for today,” Hurter added. “We knew it was a big game.”
The Liberty second-seed Bears return to their home digs Wednesday to play for their first PAC title since 2013.
NOTES >> Morgan started the game off by being hit by a pitch. … Nicole Frantz had Boyertown’s fourth sacrifice hit, a bunt in the third Spring-Ford converted into an inning-ending double play. … For the upcoming District 1-6A playoffs, the No. 1 ranked Rams (18-1) will receive a first-round bye and begin their district play on Wednesday, May 25. Boyertown sits at No. 13 – PAC playoffs do not count toward district rankings – and is in line to host a first round game on Monday, May 23.