STATE COLLEGE —The winds of change began blowing rapidly early in Thursday’s PIAA Class 6A title game, threatening to blow away Hempfield’s dominance and second straight state championship victory.
Everyone could feel it.
But Morgan Ryan wouldn’t allow it.
Instead, the Notre Dame-bound pitcher kept building enough barricades to calm the threatening storm, along with Hazleton Area, in Hempfield’s 5-3 state championship victory at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Ryan reached back when she had to, striking out nine batters and quelling a couple of Hazleton Area uprisings to win her 74th game over the past three seasons.
“She was very good,” Hazleton Area senior Hope Kinney said.
She was hardly unhittable.
Hazleton Area showed that early during a wind-swept day at Penn State, ripping four hits over the first three innings — including Kyra Antolick’s two-run double that gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead in the second inning.
“I don’t think any of us were surprised,” Ryan said. “We did our homework. I watched film of them. We knew they were a very, very talented team.”
Yet, at the most critical times, when Hazleton Area threatened to stop Hempfield’s 41-game winning streak over the past two years and keep the Spartans from winning a second straight state title in the PIAA’s highest classification, Ryan was at her best.
She escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam without allowing a run in the third inning. She left two Hazleton Area runners on base in the fifth. And when the Cougars rallied to score again while putting the potential tying runs on base in the final inning, Ryan reached back to clinch victory.
“You’ve got to realize,” Hempfield coach Robert Kalp said, “every time Mo (Morgan) goes to the mound, people think she’s just going to blow everybody away, and that these teams don’t have any hitters. These teams have good hitters. They can hit Division 1 (college) pitching. She (Ryan) did a great job.
“She’s a big-time player.”
Ryan’s run-scoring double gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead in the first inning and another double by Laura Fox tied the game 2-2 in the third, but after that, the Cougars got caught up in costly defensive mistakes.
“We’ve got to make the plays,” said Hazleton Area coach Heather Natt, whose team made its first trip to a state title game in the school’s 25-year history. “I’m sure it’s the nerves. But it is what it is. We can’t change it.”
The Cougars tried to change the momentum Hempfield built during a 41-game run that carried the Spartans to last year’s Class 4A state title and this year’s newly-created Class 6A crown.
And for most of the game, they were right there, going toe-to-toe with the mighty, unbeaten, defending state champs.
Tiana Treon was hit by a pitch to open the second inning, Marissa Trivelpiece ripped a one-out single and Antolick brought them both home by drilling a double into the left-center field gap to give Hazleton Area a 2-1 lead.
After Hempfield’s Fox tied the game 2-2 the top of the third inning, the Cougars filled the bases with one out in the bottom of the frame.
But Ryan escaped trouble by inducing a forceout at the plate and an inning-ending fly ball. The Cougars also put two on with two out in the fifth inning, but Ryan finished the inning by getting a routine grounder to second base.
“We prepared for her,” Kinney said. “Our bats were live today. But we came up just short on the score.”
Ryan, who retired 13 of 15 batters while moving to one out away from a state title, ran into a little more trouble in the final frame.
Hazleton Area’s Rebecca Rossi kept the game alive by slipping a two-out single into center field. She moved to third base when a shot to the outfield by Megan Trivelpiece was dropped for an error, and a single by Treon scored Rossi as the Cougars pulled within 5-3.
But with the potential tying runs standing at the corner, Ryan induced a soft grounder to wrap up Hempfield’s second straight state crown while improving to 22-0 in the circle this season.
“There were definitely a lot of expectations on me,” said Ryan, who finished with eight strikeouts Thursday to end her final high school season with 198, “a lot for me to live up to. I try as hard as I can to be a great player, to be a great leader. We expected a fight to the very end, and that’s what we got today. That’s always a challenge, but the adrenalin starts pumping when they get runners on. I’m happy with the way we played this season, it’s the way everybody wants to end their season.
“I hope I made everyone proud.”
PIAA Class 6A
Hempfield 5, Hazleton Area 3
O. Persin pr`0`1`0`0
Me. Trivelpiece 1b`4`0`1`0
Ma. Trivelpiece ss`3`1`1`0
2B — Ryan, Fox, Walling; Antolick.