State title game a lesson in making adjustments on the fly

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After stopping Holy Redeemer from winning its third state softball championship in four years, Philipsburg Osceola shortstop Hannah Thompson had a revelation.

“It was everything I had ever imagined,” Thompson, a senior. “And I dreamed about it a lot.”

Maybe she was the only one who saw Thursday going this way.

Because nobody could have predicted the way the PIAA Class 3A title game started, with the Mounties scoring five runs in the first inning against Holy Redeemer pitcher Morgan Bienkowski, who allowed opponents practically nothing this whole season and postseason.

Nobody certainly could have envisioned the way it ended, with Thompson booting a ball, only to have left fielder Kylie Adams pick her up by grabbing the ball and nailing the final out at third base.

And not many could have guessed what happened in between, when Redeemer’s Allyson Laiuvara hit just her third home run, Redeemer pulled within two runs and then the Mounties pulled away against one of the best pitchers in the state.

“For this game, it was just, you need to have trust in your teammates,” said winning pitcher Kam Harris, who struck out eight, limited the Royals to six hits and pretty much delivered the decisive blow with a two-run single off the left field wall in the fourth inning.

“I mean, our last out of the game started with an error,” Harris continued. “And our left fielder came in and threw to third for the last out.”

The last thing on anyone’s mind was the Mounties making it a 5-0 game right from the start.

Bienkowski, a senior who will be pitching for Binghamton next season, hadn’t allowed five runs over her last five games, let alone in one inning.

“I sure didn’t expect to have five runs in the inning,” Harris said. “It was a great way for me to relax.”

“We knew their pitcher was really tough,” Thompson added. “She works the inside corner very well. But we prepared a lot for her. We overlooked her stats and just hit the ball.”

The Mounties didn’t have to hit it hard.

A rolling, two-run single off the glove of diving shortstop Sam Rajza, a soft, run-scoring single to center and a close play at the plate on a fielder’s choice all played big in Philipsburg Osceola’s early uprising.

That wasn’t even on Redeemer’s radar, and the Royals had to recover quickly.

“We had to be confident in ourselves,” Royals second baseman McKenna Dolan said, “And confident Morgan can keep pitching the way she usually does. We just had to make good defensive plays in the field and get the scoring going.”

It almost worked.

A slumping Laiuvara, who has been looking for hits lately, laced a two-run homer over the right field wall in the second inning and Dolan used her second single to drive home Tiana Wren in the top of the fourth as the Royals roared within two runs.

“I didn’t look at it (the deficit) as five,” Laiuvara said. “I looked at it as we’re down by two.”

Then it was time for the Mounties and Harris — who isn’t accustomed to losing big leads — to make some mental adjustments of their own.

“When we got those first five runs, it really changed my approach,” Harris said. “When they put more pressure on us, it triggers something in us.”

Harris pulled the trigger in the bottom of the fourth, crushing a two-run single off the wall to widen the gap again and widen the grin on the face of Mounties coach James Gonder as he chided her for not getting extra bases on the blow.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harris said. “I thought it was over the fence. I was jogging, and I shouldn’t have been.”

The Mounties coasted to the state title from there, although Harris had one more problem to deal with.

Redeemer loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning of a four-run game, only to have Harris bear down to escape trouble with a foul out and a strikeout.

“When those bases were loaded, it brought a little more pressure to me,” Harris said. “I thrive under pressure.

“I think the sudden changes of the game really helped me in there.”

Strangely enough, they helped the Royals, too.

“We had to get through that,” Dolan said. “But we couldn’t get those key hits we needed to really bring it home.”

The message hit home for both teams.

Things don’t always go the way you plan. And when that happens. sometimes Plan B works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

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Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski