Cards gain upper hand
Published: June 7, 2012
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ORWIGSBURG - Here's how much Pine Grove respects North Schuylkill:
"As soon as we found out we were playing North Schuylkill, we were like, 'They're going to come, guns blazing, and we better come just as fired up or they're going to show us up,''' pitcher Ethel Santai said.
The Cardinals matched the Spartans' intensity, scored early and scored often to win 5-1 in the District 11 Class AA championship game May 31 at Blue Mountain's Patton Field.
The Schuylkill League Division I foes meet twice each season, and most of those games are nailbiters.
"Just knowing that coming in, how much they wanted to beat us, how close it was the last time we played them (4-2 Pine Grove in 11 innings) just kind of lit a fire in everybody,'' Santai said.
The district championship marked the third in Pine Grove coach Alan Felty's four seasons. The Cardinals are 84-9 (.903) under Felty, who was quick to give credit to assistants Ryan Leffler, Steve Torola and Ed Kreiser.
Pine Grove, which felt the sting of last year's 2-1 loss to Pen Argyl in the district final, swept Schuylkill League and District 11 gold this time around.
The Cardinals (24-2) advanced to the first round of the PIAA Tournament where they were scheduled to face District 2 champion Nanticoke (17-2) on June 4 at Patton Field. (Details of that game were unavailable prior to print production.)
In the first game of Monday's doubleheader, District 11 champion Minersville was to take on District 4 runner-up Southern Columbia in a Class A contest.
"It was such a disappointment last year,'' Santai said. "To get back there for (the seniors) and the team and give all these girls the experience of playing in a state playoff game and taking everybody to the next level is amazing.''
After pulling off another comeback in Wednesday's 3-2 semifinal victory over Palmerton, Pine Grove beat the Spartans from ahead. The Cards grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second inning and added single runs in the third, fifth and sixth to pull away.
The game followed "The Felty Way'' - excellent pitching, good defense, effective bunting and timely hitting.
Santai (24-2) turned in another gem, scattering five hits, striking out 10 and walking none. The pop on her fastball and the late movement of her breaking stuff were too much for North Schuylkill to handle.
The Cards executed four bunts - two for hits by Samantha Bertasavage and two sacrifices.
"When you add one on (almost) every inning and when it gets to three or four, it gets demoralizing for the other team,'' Felty said. "That's what you're trying to do, not give them any and try to add on all the time.
"I thought the kids were very focused,'' he added. "We didn't miss a ball in practice or warm-ups. That, I don't think has happened all year.''
In the second inning, Samantha Lengel clubbed an RBI double over the left fielder's head and scored on Brittanie Whitman's RBI single.
Santai drove in two runs on an RBI single in the third and a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
North Schuylkill (14-9) cut the deficit to 3-1 with an unearned run in the fourth inning. Johnna Cappel singled and took second on an error. Courtesy runner Eliza Schally advanced on a passed ball and scored on Brianna Schlauch's groundout.
Schlauch stung the ball, but second baseman Keandra Koons made a diving stop to her right and threw out Schlauch from the ground to limit the damage.
"It was an excellent year. Bottom line, to go through districts, you have to go through Pine Grove and Pen Argyl,'' North Schuylkill coach Dominick Grasso said. "We beat Pen Argyl, (Santai) was great today. She was on.
"... They worked hard. I'm 100 percent proud of them.''
Seniors Jena Androshick, Kelsey Stine and Koons all contributed to the championship. Androshick is the first runner off the bench, and Koons had a big day at the plate in the win over Palmerton.
Stine, the catcher who spent most of last season as a courtesy runner, added an RBI single in the sixth inning to give the Cards a 5-1 lead with three outs left.
"It's absolutely awesome to earn it for ourselves,'' Stine said. "Every other year we won, but we were just kind of in the background. This time we were able to put our team on our back and do it and win as a team as seniors.
"All year I've been struggling batting ... but to come up big in this game was great.''