LORETTO, Pa. – Kylee Lingenfelter and the rest of the Punxsutawney softball team will get to play for the school’s first-ever PIAA softball championship after ousting last year’s Class 4A champions, Mt. Pleasant, 3-1, in the 4A semifinals Monday afternoon at a chilly St. Francis University.
(Photo of Kylee Lingenfelter. Photo by Jared Bakaysa of JB Graphics. See more of Bakaysa’s work here)
“It’s awesome,” Lingenfelter, who again was strong in the circle while also hitting a home run to break a scoreless tie in the third inning said. “We haven’t been here since 2006.”
By 2006, Lingenfelter means the Punxsutawney softball program, which lost that year in the PIAA Class 3A title game to Donegal, 3-0.
Lingenfelter, though, was just getting started with her softball career at either five or six that season and some of her freshmen teammates were barely out of diapers. Only manager Alan Pifer and assistant coach Ken Covatch got to experience that season.
“It’s just amazing,” Pifer said. “Kenny and I are the only two that have been this far back in ‘06 when we got there. We talked to the girls about it, but now they are going to experience it. That is just a tremendous feeling. Obviously, we want to win when we get there. But this team has exceeded my expectations all year long. They have come together, especially here at the end of the season.”
Lingenfelter, as she has been all season, was right in the middle of the win.
The senior righty, who is headed to Penn State next season, threw a complete game four-hitter allowing one run. She didn’t walk a batter and struck out 12.
“I have seen it so many times from her, I have said it 100 times, you get spoiled by performances from Kylee because she is a perfectionist,” Pifer said. “She works hard. She works harder than any player I have ever coached.”
Lingenfelter was finally scored upon in the postseason when she gave up back-to-back doubles in the sixth inning after two outs to Chloe Poulich and Haylie Brunson breaking a postseason scoreless streak that lasted 24 ⅔ innings. But other than a pair of singles, one with one out in the fifth and one with two outs in the fifth, was practically untouchable.
At one point from the first innings after an error by the Lady Chucks to start the game until Christiana Czegan’s one-out single in the fifth for Mt. Pleasant’s first hit, Lingenfelter retired 13 Vikings in a row including eight by strikeout. That included a span of striking out seven in a row from the start of the second inning through the first out in the fourth inning. She has now pitched 26 postseason innings this season allowing one run on nine hits and five walks while striking out 59.
“It’s pretty good,” Lingenfelter asked about her postseason run. “I keep working hard and chipping away. My goal was to get to the state championship game and hopefully win.”
While Lingenfelter’s pitching was again key, so was her third-inning home run with two outs breaking up a pretty good streak from Mt. Pleasant starter and loser Carolyn Alincic, who retired eight of the first nine Lady Chucks she faced, including four by strikeout.
And she looked poised to strikeout Lingenfelter as well to end the third when she go ahead of the Punxsutawney hurler 0-2 while looking to strike out the side.
But Lingenfelter blasted the 0-2 offering over the left-field fence to give Punxsutawney a 1-0 lead.
“The momentum, you just feel it,” freshman Sarah Weaver, who was in the on-deck circle when Lingenfelter went deep, said. “You’re like, yeah, I’m going to go up there and hit it.”
And hit it Weaver did. She took the first pitch she saw from Alincic and deposited over the left-center field fence for another home run and a 2-0 Punxsutawney lead.
“No!” Weaver and Lingenfelter answered in tandem when asked if they had ever dreamed of hitting back-to-back home runs.
“I was pretty pumped,” Lingenfelter added. “As soon as one person hits it, we all start hitting it. So, I was pretty confident.”
Listen to the entire postgame interview with Weaver and Lingenfelter.
Pifer said he hadn’t seen the dugout as excited as he did after the two home runs all season.
“The energy just spiked at that point,” Pifer said. “It was sky high when (Kylee) hit hers and I don’t know how it could go higher, but it got higher after Sarah went right back on the next pitch. The girls know if you get Kylee a couple of runs, there is a good chance we are going to get the W.”
Punxsutawney wasn’t satisfied with the two runs, though, as the Lady Chucks added a run in the fourth inning while knocking Alincic, who went 3 ⅓ innings giving up three runs, two earned, on four hits and no walks while striking out three, from the game.
With one out, Kendal Johnston doubled off the fence in center just missing her second home run in as many games, and that was it for Alincic, who was replaced by Meadow Uncapher.
Toya Jones then moved Johnston to third when she reached on an error by the shortstop, Czegan, and when Abby Gigliotti lifted a deep fly ball to center that centerfielder Ava Gnibus dropped Johnston scored with Gigliotti getting credit for a sacrifice fly.
Weaver said with the 3-0 lead she had a lot of confidence in Lingenfelter closing the deal.
“I know every time she does it,” Weaver said. “She does her job and gets it done. I have a lot of confidence in her.”
Mt. Pleasant threatened a bit in the fifth with the two outs, the second one a two-out single by Gnibus that put runners on first and second, but Lingenfelter struck out pinch-hitter Sydney Kanuch to end the threat.
The Vikings did get to Lingenfelter for the run on the back-to-back two-out doubles in the sixth, but the senior induced a foul out to third baseman Holly Hartman by Uncapher to limit the damage before striking out the first two batters in the seventh and then getting Gnibus on a looping liner to shortstop Riley Presloid to end the game and start the celebration.
It was fitting that Presloid made the final out, as her error in the first inning gave Mt. Pleasant a chance to take an early lead only to see Lingenfelter work her magic to get out of a runner at second, one-out jam.
Addy Kubasky led off the game with a grounder to Presloid, but her throw pulled Grace Aikens off the first-base bag.
Courtney Poulich then bunted Kubasky to second, but Chloe Poulich popped out to Presloid, and after a wild pitch moved Kubasky to third, Brunson lined out to right fielder Jones for the third out.
Punxsutawney will take on the winner of Tuesday’s other semifinal game between District 11 champion Bethlehem Catholic and District 2 runner-up Greater Nanticoke, which was postponed to Tuesday because of bad weather. The title game is at 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, at the Nittany Lion Softball Park on the campus of Penn State University.
“Punxsutawney has been hungry for something like this for a long time,” Pifer said. “We have had a lot of good teams since 2006. We just haven’t been able to get to that next level. In fact, we haven’t been able to get out of the first round of states for quite a while, since 2009, I believe. These girls just believe in themselves and believe in their pitcher. It has just been a great run.”
PUNXSUTAWNEY 3, MT. PLEASANT 1
Score by Innings
Mt. Pleasant 000 001 0 – 1
Punxsutawney 002 100 – 3
MT. PLEASANT – 1
Addy Kubasky lf 3000, Courtney Poulich 1b 2000, Chloe Poulich 3b 3110, Haylie Brunson rf 3011, Meadow Uncapher dp/p 3000, Christiana Czegan ss 3010, Alyssa Keslar 2b 1000, Mary Smithnosky ph 2000, Ava Gnibus cf 3010, Mya Klejka c 1000, Sydney Kanuch ph 1000, Carolyn Alincic p 0000. Totals 25-1-4-1.
PUNXSUTAWNEY – 3
Kylee Lingenfelter p 3111, Sarah Weaver cf 3111, Grace Aikens 1b 3010, Madison Stonbracker c 3010, Alli Meko cr 000, Kendall Johnston dp 2110, Toya Jones rf 3000, Abby Gigliotti lf 2001, Holly Hartman 3b 2000, Riley Presloid ss 2000, Mia Lingenfelter 2b 0000. Totals 23-3-5-3.
LOB: Mt. Pleasant 4. Punxsutawney 4. Errors: Mt. Pleasant 2. Punxsutawney 1. 2B: Chloe Poulich, Brunson. HR: Kylee Lingenfelter, Weaver. SAC: Courtney Poulich, Johnston. SF: Gigliotti SB: Jones
Carolyn Alincic 3 ⅓ IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Meadow Uncapher 2 ⅔ IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Totals: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
Kylee Lingenfelter 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 12 K
WP: Kylee Lingenfelter
LP: Carolyn Alincic