Stunning final play, Russo HR send West Scranton to state semifinals

·5 min read

Jun. 11—ALLENTOWN — In less than four seconds, potential disaster turned to unbelievable triumph.

With the ball scooting to the backstop and pinch runner Alyssa Conlon digging for home, West Scranton catcher Isabella Summa and pitcher Mia Butka teamed up to cut down the tying run at the plate for the game's final out, and Gianna Russo crushed a fifth-inning, three-run homer as the Invaders advanced to their first state semifinal, twice rallying for a heart-stopping, 7-6 quarterfinal win over West Chester East on Thursday at Patriots Park.

A pair of singles to start the seventh put the Vikings (18-8) in position to tie. A strikeout and a fielder's choice — Butka threw to third on a comebacker to keep the tying run at second — set the stage for Abbey McCormick, who lined a 2-2 pitch to center field for a single.

Russo's throw was up the line a few feet, and while trying to make the catch and get back to the plate, the ball glanced off Summa's glove. Conlon had to retreat a step toward second to avoid being hit by McCormick's single, forcing her to stop at third.

The ball to the backstop started a break for the plate.

"I just knew I had to catch the ball, but I didn't," Summa said. "It went past me so I knew I had to get out and flick it quick to Mia so we could get the last out.

"I didn't see where the runner was. I just saw Mia at first glance and I threw to her and then I saw the runner and I knew we got the out. It was a pretty big out."

West Scranton (14-3) will play Lampeter-Strasburg in Monday's semifinal at a site and time to be determined after surviving the frantic finish.

"That was crazy," Butka said. "I thought the runner coming from third was a lot closer to home than she was. Then I got the ball and saw we had time."

Butka took a step up the line to cut off Conlon and tagged her on the shoulder as she began her slide, setting off a wild celebration from the West Scranton student section that made the trip, something that wouldn't have happened without a gritty performance.

East's Carey Werley lined a two-run homer in the top of the first, but West responded with four of its own.

"The same thing happened in our last game," West Scranton coach E.J. Dougher said. "They jumped out, 1-0, and we came back and scored two. Today we came back and scored four."

Maddy Maloney doubled to center to start it, and Butka cued a base hit to right. The sidespin took the ball past the outfielder and Butka ended up at third with a triple.

Russo, who finished with four RBIs, lifted a sacrifice fly to left, but the Invaders weren't done.

Olivia Dougher and Amelia Noll singled, and Tori Herne's two-out squeeze bunt led to two more when the throw sailed down the right-field line.

"The whole thing is about flipping the lineup," Dougher said. "We have some kids in the lower half of the lineup who bunted for base hits and that gets us to the top of the lineup."

That didn't look like it would matter as the Invaders' bats went quiet after Werley's second homer of the game, a three-run rope to left center in the third, put the Vikings back on top, 5-4.

Butka worked out of further damage resulting from two errors after Werley's blast, one of her team's 12 hits.

"At this point, the final eight in the state before this game, we knew that all the hitters were going to be good," Burka said. "We just had to make the plays."

West wasn't flawless, but it was determined.

Maloney started the fifth with an infield single and Butka was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Russo's fifth homer of the season, and fourth in the last six games.

"Russo got it to a count that was in her favor and she had to come in on her," Dougher said. "Boy, she didn't miss it."

Ahead, 3-1, in the count, Russo was jammed twice and fought off both pitches.

Losing pitcher Jess Gomez tried to come back inside one more time and Russo labeled it.

"I just looked for it inside and I hit it," Russo said of the more than 250-foot blast. "Just seeing the emotion of my team made it 10 times better.

"We all played with such great mindsets and it just made it so much easier to be confident in my hitting."

West wasn't out of trouble yet.

Gomez led off the sixth with a rip to the center-field fence, but she stumbled as she rounded second and was thrown out at third.

With two outs, Werley stepped in as the tying run. Intentionally walked in her last at bat, Dougher decided to keep trusting his pitcher.

"Mia never gives in," Dougher said. "That's a very, very good team over there."

Butka got Werley to tap back to the mound for the final out.

"If she hits a home run, she ties it," Dougher said. "Sometimes you've got to roll the dice, and when you're in the state tournament, you have to roll the dice and we came up with double sixes.

"And guess what? We're in the state's final four."

Contact the writer:

mmyers@timesshamrock.com

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