Anytime Neshaminy and Pennsbury lock horns in an athletic battle, you can expect a real thriller. The PIAA softball quarterfinal match-up between these two perennial powers proved no exception. The contest featured great pitching, near flawless fielding, and timely hitting. It took extra innings before Pennsbury prevailed 2-1 on a walk off homerun.
What makes this year’s showdown so unique is the fact it featured two freshman phenoms in the circle. Though only “rookies” the Falcons Ainsley McClure and the ‘Skins Kennedie Ruth pitch as if they were seasoned vets. Ruth allowed only 4 hits over seven innings. McClure was equally effective giving up six hits and one unearned run while striking out five and walking none.
For Ainsley, who racked up her third win over Neshaminy this season, having a mound opponent such as Kennedie Ruth is almost inspirational. “I feel lucky to have competition like her. She throws fantastic. She throws hard. She throws spin. It keeps you on your toes and makes you nervous because you know they have the potential to comeback and hit the ball like crazy.”
Ainsley, who has pitched since she was ten years old, has her own arsenal of effective pitches. “I have a good amount of pitches but my main pitches I go to are a screwball and a curveball. I can throw drop curves, curves, screwballs, change ups, and fastballs.”
Equally important, both pitchers show a tremendous mound presence. Ainsley attributes her seemingly calm approach to her teammates. “My team helps me deal with the pressure the most because they always back you up and always lift you up when you need it. There the best at doing that. I feel the pressure sometimes in big games but I know they’ll always come through.”
The support goes beyond hitting and fielding. Ainsley feels the Falcons 18-2 overall record comes from their team unity. “I think we have fantastic chemistry. There are several freshmen in our starting line-up which is somewhat unusual and the seniors embrace them like family. We go out together outside of school. They’re super caring. They play with everything they have and they never, ever give up, which is the most important thing.”
The big quarterfinal district match up certainly validated Ainsley’s appraisal. For six innings the two teams were locked in a pitcher’s duel that saw neither squad posing a scoring threat. The ‘Skins finally drew first blood in the top of the seventh inning. With one out, Asia Barnard was safe on an error. Rachel Kohler moved her to second with a sacrifice bunt. Barnard raced home when Mia Barone lined a two-out double to left center.
Though facing their last at bats, Ainsley knew her Falcon teammates would find a way to rally. “We realized we needed to go out and hit. We all had confidence that someone was going to comeback and score. These girls can comeback from anything.”
The resurgence started when Karli Hines collected a single to open the home seventh. An error on an infield grounder put runners on first and second. A misplay on Liz Pingor’s sacrifice bunt loaded the bases. Drew Liss, pinch runner for Haines, then sailed home on a wild pitch.
Pennsbury thought they had the game won when an ensuing fly ball to right plated what appeared to be the winning run. The runner, however, was called out for leaving early on the tag up. “We were all excited but we knew she left too early and we were hoping it would not be noticed. But we knew we’d go back and score again. We were just happy we tied it up and had another shot.”
The Falcon’s confidence came to fruition when junior catcher Kaylie Capriotti led off the bottom of the eighth and stroked a homerun deep to center into a stiff wind. “We talked afterwards and at least seven of us knew it was going to happen. She walked up to the plate and said I’ve got this. It was her favorite pitch, middle outside. The minute she made contact we knew it was gone.”
The walk-off blast brought a frenzy of jubilation from the Falcon bench. “There was so much adrenalin going through all of us. We were all jumping around and we were super excited.”
With the 2-1 victory Pennsbury not only earned a semi-final district match-up with North Penn but they had assured themselves a spot in the PIAA state playoffs. The never-say-die Falcons are moving on!