Go back a decade and watch a Loyalsock Little League Softball game. They were just starting their softball journeys then, but Amanda Daneker and Ashleigh Bair already stood out, looking like naturals.
Nothing has changed since. Tuesday at Short Park the two seniors stood out again.
Daneker went 3-for-3 with a double and triple while Bair retired six straight batters after entering with no outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning as Loyalsock defeated 2012 state finalist Warrior Run, 5-2. Freshman pitcher Kayla Gee threw five solid innings to earn the win as Loyalsock (7-1, 6-1 HAC-II) handed the Defenders their first loss while snapping their 15-game winning streak over District 4 teams that dated back to last year.
Allie Pagana of Loyalsock steals as Carra Rishel of Warrior Run waits for the throw Tuesday at Loyalsock. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"We were looking forward to seeing them all week. We knew it was a big game. We know we're going to play many other ones but we knew this one was up high," Daneker said. "Kayla pitched an amazing game and Ashleigh came into save it. It was great."
Loyalsock won its fifth straight and Daneker's RBI first-inning single erased Warrior Run's only lead, tying it at 1-1. Allie Pagana (2-for-4) scored that first run and put the Lancers ahead to stay an inning later, hitting a RBI double.
The Lancers built that lead to 5-1 after four innings and appeared to be cruising toward the big win before Devin Nicholas hit a sixth-inning single and Taylor Parker and Katy Swartz walked. Gee had allowed only three hits, but Loyalsock coach Tom O'Malley sensed she was tiring and summoned Bair. The Lock Haven-bound second baseman has excelled in relief but this was her toughest task, facing the middle of a potent lineup.
"Coming in with the bases loaded knowing they can all hit one through nine it's like, what am I supposed to throw because they are extremely good at hitting the ball," Bair said. "I wanted to get the ball over the plate and get the job done. I was jut trying to get groundballs. I wanted to get an out anywhere, I didn't care. I just wanted an out."
Bair did that but only after striking out the first batter she faced on four pitches. She needed only three more pitchers to retire the next two with Carra Rishel's 1-out fielder's choice making it 5-2.
While Gee threw hard, Bair kept Warrior Run off balance by mixing her speeds, moving the ball well and working ahead. She threw only 17 pitches and struck out two more in the seventh inning, preserving Loyalsock's first win over Warrior Run in two years.
"I think we've improved a lot and Warrior Run is a great team so it took a lot beating them," Bair said. "I knew it was going to be a good game and the outcome could have gone either way."
"Ashleigh came in there with nerves of steel and did an excellent job," O'Malley said. "She has a great attitude and is a great person and senior leader. She's got the IQ, plays hard, knows the game and it makes it a lot easier on a coach when you have those kind of players."
He has one in Daneker as well.
The three-time all-state catcher, who will play at Coastal Carolina next year, was involved in three of the four rallies that produced Loyalsock's runs. She hit a leadoff third-inning double and scored after Kay Kay Lupo used an 11-pitch at-bat to work back from 0-2 to draw a two-out walk. One batter later, Ally Kennedy was hit with a bases-loaded pitch, making it 3-1.
Daneker scored Loyalsock's final run in the fourth inning, an inning in which the Lancers scored twice off four walks and two errors. She also tripled in her final at-bat off an all-state pitcher she catches during AAU softball in the summer, and kept both pitchers calm in tough situations.
"We worked on pitch selection this week. We knew we had to be selective but not too selective and everyone had great at-bats," Daneker said. "I play with her (Parker) so it's different when you're playing against her. We're great friends and we play every weekend playing with each other so it's good to see her again. She is the best pitcher in the area and she is tough to hit."
Parker, who struck out nine, also is a fantastic hitter and her inside the park home run in the first inning put Warrior Run up 1-0. Gee was fantastic from that point on and allowed only two more hits while striking out five.
The Defenders not only allowed their most runs this season, but also were held to their fewest runs and hits. Warrior Run has lost only three regular-season games the past two seasons but this was the first time it lost by more than one run.
"I told the girls that's the worst we've played in two years, hands down," Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. "We didn't come to hit, we had errors in the field which is not like these kids and they know it. We just have to add fuel to the fire. We told them if they have a pit in their stomach right now that's a good thing."
Lupo reached base all three times she batted and scored the go-ahead run on Pagana's second-inning double. Pagana set the tone immediately in the bottom of the first, belting a line-drive single off Parker's glove before stealing second and scoring on Daneker's single.
"All the girls contributed and played well," O'Malley said. "They have awesome attitudes. They play hard and every one of these girls is coachable. It's fun to be a part of it."
Warrior Run100 001 0-2 3 2
Loyalsock111 200 x-5 5 1
Taylor Parker and Lynn Vermilya. Kayla Gee, Ashleigh Bair (6) and Amanda Daneker. W-Gee, (4-1). L-Parker, (8-1).
Top Warrior Run hitters: Parker 1-2, HR; Carra Rishel 1-3, RBI. Top Loyalsock hitters: Allie Pagana 2-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI, SB; Daneker 3-3, 3B, 2B, RBI, 2 R; Kay Kay Lupo 2 walks, R.
Records: Loyalsock 7-1, 6-1 HAC-II. Warrior Run 8-1, 6-1.