STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Alexis Bumbarger stepped into the box.
One thought careened through her mind.
“Why does it have to be me?”
Bumbarger had been mired in a playoff batting slump. But here the Clearfield senior was, at the plate at Beard Field on the campus of Penn State University in the most pressure-packed situation of her softball life: a tie game against Tunkhannock in the PIAA Class 4A championship game Friday afternoon. Bottom of the seventh inning. Bases loaded. One out.
Bumbarger had to quickly calm her nerves.
“It was a lot,” she said, smiling. “I’ve been in a hitting slump. I’m not gonna lie. I was like, ‘Of all people? Why me?’ I had to calm down and tell myself, ‘You can hit this pitcher. You got this.’”
Bumbarger did. She delivered a bloop single between the Tunkhannock center fielder and shortstop and Ruby Singleton raced home with the winning run in another walk-off victory for the Bison, 3-2, over Tunkhannock to win an improbable state title Friday afternoon.
“We call that the Bermuda Triangle; It dropped,” Bumbarger said, laughing. “I watched it drop and I was like, ‘Oh, wow! We just won!’ I never felt such joy in my life.”
Clearfield (22-3 had three walk-off wins in its remarkable run to the state title.
The Bison beat Franklin, 4-3, when Paige Houser scored on a wild pitch; after a 4-0 win over Hamburg, Clearfield won again in dramatic fashion when Singleton ended Beaver’s 42-game winning streak with a bases-loaded infield single in 2-1 win Monday in the semifinals.
It was Bumbarger’s turn to be the seventh-inning hero Friday.
To get in that position, though, Lauren Ressler needed to be a fifth-inning hero.
Her two-run homer that curled over the right-field wall near the foul pole erased a 2-0 deficit and completely changed the momentum.
“It was a big turning point,” said Tunkhannock coach Bob Hegedty, who for the second straight year felt the sting of losing in the state title game. “Big players step up and make big plays when they need and she did that for them.”
Ressler had three home runs this season coming into the championship, but had come close to pulling several more homers to right this season.
They all went foul.
Except for this one.
Ressler didn’t know the ball was gone until she was midway between first and second base.
“The only thing I was thinking was, ‘How can I help my team out?’” Ressler said. “‘How can I get on base?’ I knew it was a shot, and I knew it was gonna go out, but I thought it was going to go foul because every single time this year when I’ve hit a ball like that, it’s gone foul.”
She picked a good time to keep it fair.
The homer quickly erased what had been a shaky game for Clearfield, which gave up just one earned run. Tunkhannock went ahead 2-0 on a three-base throwing error in the top of the fourth inning.
It looked like a two-run lead was going to be plenty for Tunkhannock pitcher Kaya Hannon, who danced around six hits and three walks in the first four innings.
Finally, though, Clearfield broke through.
Tied 2-2, Clearfield had all the confidence. The Bison had been comeback kids in the playoffs, after all.
Singleton led off with a single. After Ressler popped out, Olivia Bender hit a deep fly ball that carried over the Tunkhannock center fielder’s head for a double. Hegedty elected to intentionally walk Alaina Fedder to face Bumbarger.
Then, another stunning walk-off win.
“I have no idea (where that came from),” Ressler said about Clearfield’s penchant for dramatic rallies. “We’ve all been picking each other up when we’re down. There was no individuality on this team this season. We were all one and I appreciated that. I feel like that’s when helped get us here.”
Emma Hipps was sharp again in the circle for Clearfield.
The senior struck out 10 and didn’t walk a batter in seven innings to earn the win.
“She went out and did her thing, and she’s been doing it since she came into high school as a freshman,” said Clearfield coach Derek Danver. “All three years (2020 was lost to COVID), she has dominated. She gave us a chance to the last three years win every single game. Hats off to her. It’s awesome.”
Hipps gripped the championship so tightly, her knuckles were turning white.
She wasn’t going to easily give it up.
“I don’t want to let it go,” Hipps said, a large smile creasing her face. “It’s my last time, my last chance ever, so I’m not gonna let it go.”