ANNVILLE — When they revisit Thursday’s state quarterfinal — whether in one week, one month or five years from now — Mifflinburg’s players, coaches and even the fans will likely still be shaking their heads.
Undoubtedly, they’ll lament the missed chances that could have led to a different outcome.
Up early yet unable to capitalize on additional opportunities, Mifflinburg suffered a 5-2 loss to West Perry in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal softball game Thursday at Lebanon Valley College.
Cori Ritter’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth — a line drive that easily cleared the 210-foot wall in left-center — snapped a 2-2 tie and propelled West Perry (22-5) into Monday’s semifinals for the first time — opposite Honesdale.
What will really disappoint Ron Hernandez’s club is the Wildcats nicked Ritter for nine hits, drew three walks and were hit twice, and left 10 runners on base. Mifflinburg was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position — and that one hit came early.
“It’s kind of been our M.O. for the past three games,” Hernandez said. “We just can’t get those clutch runs in when we needed them. We started strong, we started fast, just like we wanted to, but we couldn’t walk all the way through that door we opened up.”
When Ritter’s first offering to Vanessa Martin hit the Mifflinburg pitcher — Delaney Good had reached on a slap single and Brook Karchner walked — the Wildcats had the bases loaded with just one out in the top of the first inning.
When Ritter’s 2-0 delivery to Vanessa Boop skipped past Cheyenne Shughart, Good scampered home. Shughart’s throw got past Ritter, and Karchner raced to the plate and Mifflinburg had its second run. Despite numerous chances, they wouldn’t get another.
Boop followed with the first of her three singles, but second baseman Katelyn Zeigler made a lunging stop to her right to prevent the ball from getting through the infield, forcing courtesy runner Montgomery Wetzel to stop at third.
Ritter worked out of the jam. As it turned out, Wetzel would be one of three Wildcats (18-5) stranded at third. Four others were left at second.
Mifflinburg left six runners aboard in the first three innings.
“I had to get them to swing at it, so I started throwing more pitches with movement rather than speed because they were getting a hold of my speed,” said Ritter, who yielded seven hits in the first three innings. “So I just tried my best.
“I was throwing a lot of two-seams and changeups, just trying to disrupt their speed. And my defense was really solid behind me.”
Martin was pitching well, and the Wildcats’ 2-0 cushion looked really comfortable through three innings as the senior lefty retired all nine hitters she faced.
Once Tiara Johnson opened the fourth by serving a single into center, the Mustangs began building momentum. Johnson stole second, Lindsey McCurdy worked a full count before walking and that brought Ritter to the plate.
Martin stabbed Ritter’s one-hopper, but both runners moved up. Moments later, Hailey Foresman misplayed Shughart’s grounder to deep short. Johnson would have scored any way, but when the ball caromed away, McCurdy rolled home with the tying run.
“Hailey, you give her that same ball 100 times, she’ll catch it 99 times,” Hernandez said.
Two innings later, after stranding runners in the fifth and again in the sixth, Ritter dug in with one out and McCurdy perched at first. One swing later, the ball landed on the other side of the fence, one-hopping a spectator as West Perry snared a 4-2 lead.
“Before the inning started, I walked up to her and said, ‘Hey, if she grooves you one on the first pitch, take it out of here,’” West Perry coach John Zeigler said. “She said, ‘All right.’ Boom!”
After Shughart reached on a three-base error, Jordan Santopietro parachuted a soft liner just inside the line behind third for an RBI single, and West Perry’s lead was 5-2.
Mifflinburg tried to rally in the seventh — Libby Whittaker drew a one-out walk and moved to second when Martin was hit by a pitch — but the next two Wildcats were retired.
“It’s never easy,” coach Zeigler said. “They always make it exciting.”
“When you look at the scoreboard, it stings when you’re winning every category but the one that counts,” said Hernandez, whose Wildcats outhit West Perry 9-4. “It wasn’t our day. They just didn’t fall the way we wanted them to. Good game.”
PIAA CLASS 4A QUARTERFINALS
at Lebanon Valley College
WEST PERRY 5, MIFFLINBURG 2
Mifflinburg`200`000`0 — 2`9`2
West Perry`000`203`x — 5`4`1
Vanessa Martin and Vanessa Boop; Cori Ritter and Cheyenne Shughart.
WP: Ritter. LP: Martin.
Mifflinburg: Boop 3-for-4; Delaney Good 2-for-3, run; Hailey Foresman 2-for-3; Martin 1-for-2, 2 hbp; Abby Underhill 1-for-2; Brook Karchner 0-for-3, run.
West Perry: Tiara Johnson 2-for-3, run, stolen base; Ritter 1-for-3, run, home run (6th, 1 on), 2 RBIs; Jordan Santopietro 1-for-3, RBI; Lindsey McCurdy 0-for-1, 2 runs, 2 walks; Shughart 0-for-3, RBI.