WELLSBORO - Bryan Fuller strolled out to the pitching circle with one question in mind for Towanda pitcher Alaina Wickwire. The right-hander was staring at the game-tying run at third base and the game-winning run on second base, and in the batter's box was Wellsboro's Maggie Smith, the same hitter who hit a two-run home run off Wickwire four innings earlier.
Fuller's question for Wickwire was whether or not she wanted to pitch to Smith with first-base open. There was no hesitation in Wickwire's voice. She wanted to pitch to Smith. The idea of pitching with no room for error didn't sit well with her.
Wickwire's confidence was rewarded as she struck out Smith, the Hornets' clean-up hitter to end Tuesday's District 4 Class AA softball playoff opener and give Towanda a 5-4 upset win on the road. Towanda advances to face No. 2 seed Loyalsock on Thursday at Loyalsock in the district quarterfinals.
"That's the kind of competitor Alaina is," Fuller said. "I really love that kind of fire in my pitcher. I wish she had a little more. Sometimes I think she's too laid back. But she competes."
Wickwire's strikeout of Smith ended her second consecutive inning with two Wellsboro runners in scoring position. Maintaining that one-run lead ever since Smith hit a third-inning home run, Wickwire never seemed rattled by a situation. She induced a groundout with two on and one out in the sixth, and ended the inning with a routine pop out.
In the seventh, with two on and one out, Wickwire cleanly fielded a sacrifice bunt for the second out before striking out Smith on a 1-2 pitch. She retired 13 of the final 18 batters she faced following Smith's home run in the third inning.
"I don't really get rattled," Wickwire said. "My team is a pretty good team and I trust them behind me to get to everything."
Wickwire had the matchup she wanted with Smith in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was also the matchup Wellsboro wanted.
Hornets head coach Greg Carr couldn't have asked for more than to have his clean-up hitter at the plate with a chance to win the game. He was so comfortable with the move he sacrificed with his No. 3 hitter Paige Carr ahead of Smith to set up a hit potentially winning the game.
Smith had been on base three times already, and even if Towanda decided to walk Smith, Jordan Butters hitting fifth had driven a ball to the center-field fence in her previous at-bat.
"That's tough on anybody, I don't care how old you are," Greg Carr said of Smith's final at-bat. "Whether you're 15 years old or 35 playing in the majors, it's tough. I was proud of her because she did what she could to try and win the game for her team."
Smith's home run was one of the two times Wellsboro made a two-run rally to cut its deficit to just one run after falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning. Butters and Baylea Lehman each knocked in a second-inning run to cut the deficit to 3-2, and Smith's homer, a towering drive to right field, cut the Hornet deficit to 5-4 in the third inning.
But there was no scoring for either team over the final four innings because Wickwire pitched out of trouble and Wellsboro pitcher Brooke Kohler didn't even allow herself to get in trouble. Kohler settled in after a rough start retiring 12 of the final 13 batters she faced. And the one she did allow to reach was erased on a double play.
Kohler pitched the final two-plus innings of a shutout over Towanda in late April on a day where there was snow during the game. But Towanda's offense was far more sharp than it was a month ago.
The first three Black Knights batters recorded hits in the first inning, the third of which was a two-run double from Wickwire. The three first-inning hits nearly matched the four Towanda recorded a month ago.
"After we scored runs, everyone seemed relaxed because last time we were here we couldn't hit," Wickwire said. "We hit really good this time. I think it was a confidence boost for us."
"Scoring in the first inning really set the tone for the entire game," Fuller said. "It allows out pitcher to maybe to pitch as hard as she has to with the pitches she needs to throw in the spots she needs to hit. It takes the pressure off a little bit."
Towanda302 000 0 - 5 6 2
Wellsboro022 000 0 - 4 8 2
Alaina Wickwire and Sarah Dawsey. Brooke Kohler and Paige Carr. W-Wickwire. L-Kohler.
Top Towanda hitters: Koryn Wickwire, 2-4, double, run; Alaina Wickwire, 1-2, double, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Sam Schoonover, 1-3, run; Laci Manning, 1-1, RBI. Top Wellsboro hitters: Sarah Ingerick, 2-4, triple; Maggie Smith, 2-4, home run, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Jordan Butters, 1-3, RBI; Alexa Singer, 2-3.
With runners in scoring position: Towanda 2-5; Wellsboro 1-7.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Towanda 2-2; Wellsboro 6-5.
Pitches-strikes: Towanda, Wickwire 100-70. Wellsboro, Kohler 101-66.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Towanda, Wickwire 31-20. Wellsboro, Kohler 28-21.