Jun. 18—STATE COLLEGE — Tri-Valley doesn't give up. Never. Ever.
And the Bulldogs sure didn't give up in the bottom of the seventh inning of the PIAA Class A championship game against West Greene at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Trailing by a run and down to its last three outs, Tri-Valley rallied for a heart-thumping, 2-1 victory over the Pioneers on Friday to capture the first state softball championship in school history.
Samantha Masser scored the tying run with a brilliant hook slide, and Allie Huhn, the only senior on the team, won it with a walk-off RBI double as the Bulldogs brought home the gold.
With a victory in its first trip to the state finals, District 11 champion Tri-Valley (25-2) became the 15th Schuylkill League team to win a state softball championship, joining Minersville (10), Williams Valley (3) and Pine Grove (1).
"I don't think it's sunk in yet," Tri-Valley head coach Marty Shade said. "I'm so happy for the girls. I'm so happy for the senior. ... I'm just so happy for our kids, and I'm happy for our community. We had a big crowd here today. They all support me."
Trailing 1-0, winning pitcher Emma Maurer started the game-winning rally with a line single to right field. Cross country star Samantha Masser entered the game as a courtesy runner and, on the first pitch to Grace Header, Masser stole her second base of the game.
Header hit a hard bouncer that pitcher Kiley Meek bobbled. She hurriedly turned and threw to first base, but Header beat the throw.
Meanwhile, Masser never stopped running and scored the tying run with a textbook slide away from the catcher. Masser did the same thing in the state semifinal win over Halifax, scoring from second base on a ball that never left the infield.
"The pitcher didn't look at me, and I knew I had to score so the game would be tied," Masser said. "It was so amazing. I was like, 'Oh, God! We got it! We're going to win it,' because I have faith in my teammates.
"I've been taught since a young age to be smart on the bases," Masser added. "I saw her turning her back throwing to first base. I was rounding third, and I just went."
While West Greene (21-3) tried to retire Masser at the plate, Header alertly scampered to second base.
On the next pitch, Huhn crushed a ball to deep right-center. The ball kept carrying and, when the ball hit the ground and bounced off the wall, Header easily scored from second base to set off a huge red, white and black celebration.
"I'm just so proud of the girls. This is an unbelievable experience," said shortstop Gianna Poletti, who was on deck when Huhn delivered the game-winner. "I knew we'd never give up. This is what we do. We come back, and we play to the very end. We were staying positive and digging deep at the end."
Added Shade: "When we get home, to have (Huhn) sit in that parade holding the trophy. It's unbelievable."
Junior third baseman Lexi Snyder, who went 2-for-3 with a double, has seen the worst of times for Tri-Valley softball, and now she's a big part of the best of times. In 2019, the Dawgs went 7-13, and in 2020 things got even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the season. Now, Snyder and Dawgs are state champions.
"It's so mind-blowing," Snyder said. "Two years ago, we didn't even make it through districts and here we are this year."
For much of the day, it looked like West Greene, a four-time state finalist and two-time champion over the past five seasons, would add another golden trophy to its collection.
The Pioneers struck first in the top of the second inning and carried that 1-0 lead into the seventh inning. An inability to turn an inning-ending double play cost the Dawgs when BreAnn Jackson roped an RBI double to deep left-center on the next pitch, giving the Pioneers the lead.
Tri-Valley threatened in the bottom half when Snyder and Brittany Rice led off with singles. West Greene, though, got out of the jam when Rice got thrown out at the plate on an attempted double steal.
That was just one of several missed opportunities for Tri-Valley, which threatened often against Meek (21-3) but couldn't break through until the end.
A 9-2-5 double play crushed a rally in the fifth inning, as Tri-Valley had a runner thrown out at the plate and at third base on the same play.
The Dawgs put the ball in play consistently, striking out just twice. For the first six innings, though, it seemed that nearly every ball they ripped went right into a fielder's glove.
Through it all, Tri-Valley continued to believe.
The confidence grew in the top of the first inning when Jersey Wise led off with a single, and Rice promptly threw her out trying to steal second base. West Greene entered the game 70-for-71 on stolen-base attempts.
That boosted Maurer (12-2), who finished with a five-hitter. She struck out seven and walked one. When the Pioneers threatened, Maurer stranded a runner at second base in the second inning, a runner at second in the fourth, a runner at third in the fifth and a runner at third in the sixth. In the seventh, first baseman Sydney Schley tracked down an errant throw and fired to Rice, who put the tag on Taylor Karvan to end the inning.
"There was a lot of pressure," said Maurer, a sophomore. "It's nice when your team has your back. It's awesome. There are no words for it. It's exciting."
Added Poletti: "It means the whole world. This is an amazing team to be on because I just love them all."
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