By Lisa Byers
May 7, 2013 7:00 a.m. COCHRANTON —
Going into play on Tuesday, Maplewood was the lone team with any chance of catching Saegertown in the Region 3 softball title race.
But at the end of a seven-inning affair with Cambridge Springs, the Lady Tigers went from having an opportunity to share the Region 3 crown with the Panthers to a game back of the Blue Devils for the region’s lone Class AA playoff berth.
Needless to say, it had been a trying couple of days for Maplewood leading into Thursday’s clash with Cochranton. So when the Tigers stepped off the bus at Cochranton High School, they did so with a chip on their shoulders.
And at the end of the game, the Tigers were back in business.
Maplewood beat the Cardinals 3-1. With the win and Cambridge Springs’ loss to Union City yesterday, the Tigers are now in a virtual tie with the Lady Devils for that coveted Class AA playoff spot.
Cambridge Springs finished its Region 3 schedule at 4-4. Maplewood (8-4 overall) is now 3-3 with games against Union City and Saegertown remaining.
“I think it was a huge eye-opener after Cambridge,” Maplewood coach Hannah Parker said. “We did not have a good game at all.
“We actually did not have practice (Wednesday) because we thought there was going to be a thunderstorm. So they came out (yesterday) ready to play. This was the first game that when we showed up and got off the bus, I was like, ‘OK. We’re here to play today.’”
The Tigers had everything going yesterday. They played clean defense, finishing the game with just one miscue. They got timely, solid base hits, ran the bases well. And they got a sensational performance on the mound from Madalyn Nicols.
“Stellar,” Parker said. “Just stellar.
“She was really, really solid. She doesn’t throw a whole lot at practice. Her stamina isn’t up as much as Taylor’s (Smith) is. But she is very reliable to go in and throw strikes, which is awesome.
“We have worked with her in the past. She has that attitude. She wants to be in charge and she wants to be in charge of what is going on around her and in charge of the show.”
That she was.
With the exception of the first inning, the sophomore was in complete control.
The Tigers gave their pitcher a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Emily Merritt led off the game with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a single by Caitlyn Hartman.
In the bottom half of the inning, Nicols hit a pair of batters and walked another to load the bases, but got out of it unscathed.
Nicols allowed a total of just three hits. One of those hits was a solo home run by Sam Kinter in third inning. She walked two and struck out seven.
Nicols was a prime example of playing with a chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t want to play any part in the seniors’ careers ending prematurely.
“We have six or seven seniors and they don’t want to end their seasons,” Nicols said. “They want to have the best season they can. We’re doing it for the seniors.
“We’re playing with more confidence. And that’s the way we need to play.”
The Tigers scored what would prove to be the game-winning run in the second inning, and it was set up by none other than Nicols.
Nicols led off the second inning with a laser shot to the fence in left-center field for a double — a hit teammates, rivals and fans were still talking about at the game’s conclusion.
She advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a throwing error on a bunt by Brianna Proudfoot. Proudfoot later scored on another error.
Cochranton pitcher Natalie Brock shut the Tigers down the rest of the way. The Cardinals’ offense just couldn’t get anything going against Nicols.
“It’s the same thing,” Cochranton coach Mark McGuire said. “We’re not making our own breaks. Every time we hit the ball hard, it’s right to someone.
“Part of it is a credit to them … But we just aren’t getting the breaks.”
They suffered a pretty bad break in the third inning. Second baseman Abby Clulow dove to her right attempting to catch a line drive off the bat of Nicols and landed awkwardly on her shoulder and had to leave the game. McGuire said the extent of her injury isn’t known, but it is not believe to be serious. Losing Clulow, known as The General, for any period of time, though, would hurt the Cardinals.
“She’s a special kind of player,” McGuire said.
Brock pitched all seven innings for the Cardinals and allowed seven hits, walked no one and struck out three. Only one of the three runs against her was earned.