Jun. 11—DuBOIS — With Karli Storm batting and her team down big, Cambria Heights senior pitcher Paige Jones stood on second base, clasped her hands together and looked to the heavens in prayer.
"I was like, 'Please, let her hit it.' I was like, 'Come on, please, let her hit it,'" Jones admitted.
Jones' prayer was answered. Storm belted a double that turned out to be one of the highlights in a four-run Highlander third inning.
It just wasn't quite enough in the end.
Despite rallying and threatening repeatedly over the last five innings in its bid to move into the PIAA Class 3A softball semifinals, Cambria Heights' first-ever foray into the state tournament came to a close at the hands of District 9 champion Punxsutawney, 6-4, on Thursday at a picturesque Heindl Field.
Jones needed to regroup twice to compose herself to answer questions after the game. Such was the emotional investment she and her teammates had in the endeavor.
"I'm just sad that this run had to end like this versus a team going in that I really, genuinely did think that we were going to beat. We had all the components. We just didn't put it all together," said Jones, her face still a little wet from tears. "In my mind, we could beat anybody if we put our minds to it.
"But we had a couple of errors that don't usually happen. I gave up a home run. That doesn't usually happen. We battled back. We had opportunities. We just didn't come through."
Cambria Heights ended the third with runners on first and second and the fifth with runners on first and third. The Highlanders got the leadoff runner on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, only for Punxsutawney pitcher Kendal Johnston to find a way to rise to the challenge.
In the seventh, after Jones reached on an error, Johnston got Cambria Heights' dangerous two, three and four hitters, Ari Westrick, Storm and Lexi Griak, to foul out, flyout and hit a grounder to short for a game-ending forceout.
Cambria Heights actually outhit the Chucks 6-5. Jones didn't allow a run and only one hit over the final five frames when she recorded seven of her 10 strikeouts.
The defeat snapped a 19-game win streak for the Highlanders, who finished the season 22-2, won their first district championship and advanced to the state tournament for the first time. In the moments immediately after the game, though, that was small consolation.
"I'm devastated because our team really could have had that win," Highlander senior shortstop Emma Stockley said.
Jenna Serafin began Cambria Heights' rally in the third, becoming the first Highlander to reach base on a leadoff double. One out later, Karin Adams singled.
Jones then dropped a bunt that Chucks' third baseman Elliott Ferrent ate, looking Serafin back to third.
Westrick's forceout scored Serafin to get Cambria Heights on the board. After Storm's double plated Jones, Griak hit a grounder that was thrown away, enabling courtesy runner Kaydence DellaValle to score ahead of Storm.
Bender followed with a single before Stockley flew out to end the productive frame.
"We had a little burst of energy there. Then it kind of went downhill afterward and we really didn't do anything after that," Westrick said.
"We kind of plateaued there."
Cambria Heights' best chance after that was in the fifth, when Jones walked and Westrick singled up the middle off the pitcher to start the inning. Storm, though, flew out to deep center and Griak popped out behind first. Punxsutawney shortstop Brooke Skarbek got the third out when she backpedaled into shallow left and managed to track Maddie Bender's troublesome popup as she fell down.
The Chucks, who won the state title in 2018, improved to 11-10 and will play either Mount Pleasant or Avonworth on Monday.
"We played some tough competition, and the girls have just picked it up another level," Punxsutawney coach Alan Pifer said.
The Chucks led 6-0 after all-Central Penn League freshman Ciara Toven took a 1-2 Jones offering over the wall in left field with two outs and two runners aboard in the second inning.
"The coaches had just told me to move back in the box. I guess that's all I had to do," Toven said. "We needed the runs, for sure. I know (Cambria Heights) is a really good team."
Punxsutawney struck first with three unearned runs on the top of the first. The Chucks capitalized on two Highlander errors when Ferrent's looper hugged the left-field line and skipped along the fence in foul territory all the way to the warning track for a two-run triple.
"Down six early, a lot of teams would have just folded, and they didn't," Highlander coach Drew Thomas said. "Unfortunately, at this point, you can't have a bad inning, and we did."
Through the disappointment, some of the Highlanders were starting to be able to take a fuller perspective.
"I'm so unbelievably proud of our team for making it this far," Stockley said. "We made history at Cambria Heights."