ST. MARYS — To say the St. Marys Minor League All-Star softball team won the District 10 title the hard way following Tuesday’s thrilling 8-4, 9-inning victory agains Punxsutawney would be a huge understatement.

The team suffered a heartbreaking 4-3, 7-inning loss to Punxsy on its home field at Benzinger Park in the winners’ bracket finals last week. The loss may have done in most teams, but St. Marys responded with a pair of lopsided victories.

St. Marys beat DuBois 14-0 in five innings in the losers’ bracket finals before scoring a big 12-2, 5-inning win at Punxsutawney Sunday to force a winner-take-all championship game Tuesday evening in St. Marys.

And, it was Punxsy that looked to be total control Tuesday as it jumped out to a 4-1 lead after three innings while holding St. Marys hitless through four innings.

However, St. Marys had a couple more magical moments left in the tank in front of its hometown crowd. St. Marys pulled within one (4-3) with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth, then tied things in the sixth when Bailey Thorwart ripped a double to left-center and came all the way around to score on a two-base error on the play.

Thorwart’s clutch hit, coupled with two key defensive plays in the bottom of the sixth, helped send the game to extra innings.

In that bottom of the sixth, Punxsy’s Makenna Gula hit a single to left that got past the outfielder. However, center fielder Maddie Lanzel hustled all the way over to backup the play to keep Gula at second base.

Gula then stole third, with the throw getting away from the third baseman. Gula headed for home, not realizing shortstop Molly Hanslovan was backing up the play. Hanslovan fired home to catcher Calleigh Buzard, who slapped the tag on Gula to end the innings.

Both starting pitchers — St. Marys’ Avery Eckels and Punxsy’s Brinley Hallman — then put up zeroes in both the seventh and eighth innings. Both tossed all nine innings.

St. Marys was the team to break though in the ninth, as Gina Geci jump-started a rally with a one-out infield siingle. She promptly swiped second beore scoring on a double by Eckels. Kaylen Eozzo followed with a triple to left-center to plate Eckels before scoring herself when Buzard reached safely on a fielder’s choice.

Buzard later came home on a groundout by Thorwart to put St. Marys up 8-4.

Eckels and her defense did the rest from there in the bottom of the eighth, as Punxsy could only muster a one-out walk. Eckels wen the distance, allowing four earned runs on five hits while striking out nine and walking six. She allowed just two hits and no runs over the final six innings.

With the win, St. Marys advances to the Section 1 Tournament — which is being hosted by St. Marys beginning July 9. The victory also completed a summer sweep of the D-10 softball titles for St. Marys, with its Little League and Junior League squads having already won titles.

“I wanted this one done as early as possible, because I knew they were coming for us,” said St. Marys manager Matt Eckels. “Unfortunately, it went nine innings.

“But, we never hung our head. This is a good group of girls and they have worked hard since June 1 and haven’t stopped. And, I don’t see them stopping any time soon.

“We’ve had some really intense practices in the heat to build up their endurance, and it really showed up today. They did their thing and it was pretty awesome to see.

Eckels also is proud of the fact his team helped complete the sweep of D-10 titles for St. marys and excited for the opportunity to play sectionals in front of the hometown crowd.

“It is really cool that in District 10 St. Marys swept all three titles. But, I always teach the girls to keep their composure and only worry about the next game and never (think) further than that next game.

“It will be really awesome to represent St. Marys in our hometown (at sectionals) and have everyone come out to watch them.”

After both teams left runners on base in the first inning, Punxsy grabbed the lead with a run in the bottom of the second.

Ava Roken drew a leadoff walk, stole second and raced home on a single by Brooke Young to put Punxsy up 1-0. Olivia Tovern followed with a walk as Punxsy quickly put two runners in scoring position.

However, Eckels got a strikeout before first baseman Eozzo cut down a run at home on a grounder for the second out. Eckels then fielded a comebacker to end the inning.

St. Marys got that run back in the third.

Hanslovan reached on a leadoff error, then was bunted to second by Geci. An errant throw back to the pitcher allowed Hanslovan to take third. She scored a batter later on a groundout by Eckels to even the score at 1-1.

Punxsy quickly countered with a three-run bottom of the third to seize control of the game. Avay Powell had a two-run single in the inning, while Brynn Hick plated a run on a groundout.

Eckels worked out of a two-out jam in the fourth before finding her groove in the circle in the later innings. With her silencing the Punxsy bats, the St. Marys offense went to work.

St. Marys scored twice in the fifth without the aide of a hit.

Hanlovan reached on a one-out error, then promptly stole second. Geci walked, with a wild pitch on ball four sending Hanslovan to third before she scored on another wild pitch. Geci scored when Eckels reached on an error.

That’s all St. Marys mustered in the frame though depsite still having two runners in scoring postiion with one out.

Thorwart then tied the game win the sixth, setting the stage for the late-inning drama.

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