ALLENTOWN — The Pittston Area softball team climbed higher this spring than any previous season in school history.
That run came to an end Thursday night when a flyball was not quite high enough for the Patriots and a bouncing ball was for Solanco.
Hannah Phillips threw a two-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts and Solanco used hits by its first three batters of the game to turn back Pittston Area, 1-0, in a PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal game at Patriots Park.
Pittston Area’s Alexa McHugh just missed a home run in the fourth inning.
Solanco scored when Liz Mowrer bounced a double over the third baseman’s head and down the left-field line before the Patriots recorded an out.
“Alexa puts that ball a foot higher and it’s a tie game,” Pittston Area coach Vito Quaglia said. “It was three-quarters of the way up. You’re talking a difference of inches.”
Phillips moved the ball in and out, up and down, getting several key strikes on high pitches out of the strike zone. She struck out six straight at one point and struck out the side in order in both the second and fifth innings against a team that had combined for 23 runs in its previous two playoff outings.
“I definitely got stronger,” Phillips said of how the game progressed. “That’s usually what happens.”
Pittston Area got leadoff hitters on in the first, third and fourth innings, then had two on with one out in the sixth.
From there, Phillips struck out four straight and got a pop-up in front of the plate to end the game and send Solanco into the state semifinals against District 3 rival Lampeter-Strasburg.
Even Phillips, however, knew McHugh’s fly ball on the first pitch of the fourth had a chance to clear the fence in center field.
“I figured it was going out,” Phillips said, “but I knew if it did, I would come back even stronger.”
The Patriots got Kaehler Kivler to third in the third inning when her bunt induced a Solanco error and two more bunts by Bailey Loyack and Gabby Para advanced her.
“We just didn’t do enough,” Quaglia said. “You have to get that hit in this kind of game.
“When you’re this far in the playoffs, one hit, one out, one inning is the difference.”
Lexi Felinski singled with one out in the sixth in one of just five times that Pittston Area managed to put the ball in play without bunting.
McHugh followed by drawing a walk, but that was the last chance Pittston Area could generate.
The junior, who began the game at first base, led Pittston Area’s hopes of reaching the state semifinals. She had the team’s only extra-base hit and was the only Patriot to reach base twice.
McHugh took over as pitcher after Solanco opened the fourth inning with its sixth hit. She went three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit, striking out three and recording four of the other six outs by getting Golden Mares to hit the ball back to her.
Pittston Area won its first softball district title and first state tournament game in school history this season.
PIAA CLASS 5A QUARTERFINALS
Solanco 1, Pittston Area 0
Pittston Area`000`000`0 — 0
Solanco`100`000`0 — 1
2B – McHugh, Mowrer, Phillips.