It was bound to happen.
At some point this season, Cochranton was going to put together a complete performance and allow head coach Mark McGuire and his staff to breathe a little easier in the late innings.
On Thursday afternoon the Cardinals, looking to finish the first half of the Region 3 season unbeaten, finally came through.
Cochranton scored four runs through the first three innings and collected eight hits on its way to a 4-1 win over Saegertown at Cochranton High School.
The Cardinals improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Region 3. Saegertown dropped to 5-4 overall and into a tie with Union City for second place in the region at 2-2.
“Awesome,” McGuire said. “Awesome.”
“This is the team that has been there all season,” McGuire added. “We just put a few more hits together today. That was the big difference.”
Unbeaten and having allowed just a run so far this season, one would think Cochranton would have been resting comfortably going into its showdown with Saegertown. But the Cardinals’ run through Region 3 has been anything but easy.
Until yesterday, those wins were a testament to outstanding pitching and stellar defense.
In fact, all three of Cochranton’s previous region wins had been decided by two runs or less. Two of those games were decided in the Cardinals’ last at-bats, including a nine-inning 1-0 win over Maplewood on Tuesday.
Cochranton averaged 1.7 runs and 5.3 hits per game in those wins against Union City (2-0), Cambridge Springs (2-1) and Maplewood.
“We really wanted to beat (Saegertown) for a long time,” said Cochranton shortstop Mackenzie Hawley. “I just think (yesterday) we were all pumped up and fired up and ready to play and do our thing.”
Cochranton scored the only runs it would wind up needing with two outs in the second inning. That two-out rally began with Hawley’s line-drive single through the hole in left-center. She scored on a double to the fence in center field by Sam Kinter.
Kinter advanced to third on a single by Katy Dunn and scored on an error. It was the first time since its win over Union City on April 8, that Cochranton scored before the sixth inning.
“About time,” McGuire said, when asked what he was thinking when he saw the Cardinals finally string together some hits in the first inning.
“That inning is a prime example,” McGuire added. “Sam has been struggling as much as anyone. And (Wednesday night) I probably talked to her for 20 minutes, tears in her eyes. She said, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I’m not having a good year.’
“If you go back and look in the book, yeah in Sam’s eyes it’s not good … But what does she do (yesterday), she gets that two-out hit to get us going.”
Cochranton added another run in the third inning on Hawley’s second single of the afternoon. Katie Boeckenhauer had an RBI single in the third inning.
Saegertown got on the board in the fourth inning. Emma Osborne hit a double and her courtesy runner, Brittany Sample, scored on a single by Jaricka Simmerman to cut Cochranton’s lead to three (4-1).
It is just the second run scored on the Cardinals this season.
The Panthers looked like they would cut into that deficit further in the fifth inning when Tori Eckart led off the frame with a double. Eckart was retired at third base on a grounder to second by Haley Wise and an outstanding throw by Abby Clulow.
Clulow came up clutch again for the second out of the inning. Maile Chang roped a double to center field. Clulow took the cutoff from Boeckenhauer and threw a bullet to home plate to get Wise.
“All credit to Cochranton,” Saegertown coach Mark McKissock said. “They played a great game. (Natalie) Brock pitched a great game. They made some defensive plays that were great plays.
“In the fifth inning there we were aggressive as always and this time it didn’t work out. In hindssight, we might have been a little less aggressive there in the fifth, but that’s not the way we play.”
Hawley finished the game 3-for-3 for the Cardinals. She is 6-of-7 this week.
On the mound, Brock went seven innings, allowing one run on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts. She now sports a 0.27 earned run average, having allowed just two runs in 51 innings of work.
Simmerman finished 2-for-3 for the Panthers. Osborne was saddled with the loss. She pitched six innings allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
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