---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
WILKES-BARRE -- As soon as Alexis Shemanski made contact with the ball, she had a feeling she'd won the game.
Gabby Shrawder, Warrior Run's speedy center fielder, easily tracked down the ball and made a great catch to record the first out of the inning. The distance Shemanski's ball traveled was the key.
As soon as Shrawder caught it, Chelsea Skrepenak wasted no time and bolted down the third-base line to score, easily beating the throw to the infield.
And just like that, Warrior Run's hoped for return trip to the state final was over in the first round of the PIAA Class AA state tournament at Wilkes University's George Ralston Field.
Skrepenak's run off the Shemanski sacrifice fly was the only one in the 1-0 Royals' victory that lasted 8 innings.
"She's our fastest runner. It was far enough and she's fast enough and I knew it (was over)," Holy Redeemer pitcher Kaya Swanek said.
Skrepenak reached safely on a perfectly executed bunt single before Jenn Ringsdorf followed with a hit down the third-base line.
Warrior Run pitcher Tay Parker then intentionally walked Sydney Kotch to load the bases before Shemanski's sacrifice fly with no outs.
The first-round state playoff game turned into a pitchers' duel from the beginning between Parker and Swanek with a display of phenomenal defensive plays for good measure. The Royals (16-0) turned three double plays.
"These past games and all of our games throughout the season, (Swanek) has a ton of heart and we couldn't do it without her. We have a hard defense practice all the time. Defense wins championships and it's proven us right," Shemanski said with a laugh.
The District 5 champion Royals (16-0) entered the PIAA state playoffs for the first time in school history.
Jackie Clemens twice lined into double plays, the first a hard shot to center that got Devin Nicholas picked off trying to tag up. Clemens then hit a hard shot to second that was caught and doubled up Parker returning to first in the fourth.
"You tell them to be aggressive all year and you hit the ball hard, but got a little too aggressive. (The Royals) made good plays though; there's not much you can do about that," Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. "Got to come in and keep hitting hard and we did that. It's not what we did wrong. We didn't have any blunders; they just got good jumps. Four or five real good plays on us."
Warrior Run (20-4) got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning when Swanek hit a high shot right to Laura Bastian, who caught it and made an unassisted double play by tagging second base.
The Royals then stranded two runners in the sixth inning before Warrior Run got out of the inning unscathed.
"To get a second chance (with runners in scoring position) and come through like that, it's crazy," Shemanski said. "We knew this would be a really tough game, but the whole team put in a great group effort and we just pulled through with it. It's just phenomenal."
The Royals were held to just five hits by Parker. She recorded nine strikeouts in the loss, falling one shy of 900 for her illustrious career.
"She's a great pitcher and we knew that," Swanek said. "Our defense was just amazing and I put it where my catcher wanted it to and my defense did the work for me. (We) couldn't be any happier."
Swanek recorded just one strikeout in the win, but the Defenders' struggled to string together any offense off her pitch selection and the Royals defense.
Warrior Run's potent offense was held to three hits, one in each of the first, third and fifth innings. Devin Nicholas and Lynn Vermilya each had a deep double to left field.
Holy Redeemer forced the Defenders into six 1-2-3 innings with a number of great defensive plays, such as center fielder Elizabeth Eaton's catch at the warning track in deep center to rob Parker of extra bases. Warrior Run never went more than four batters deep in any inning.
"That's a good team," Watson said. "They were disciplined in the box against Tay, too. All the credit to them."