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Blue Ridge softball coach Bob Pavelski and Montrose baseball coach Todd Legg were not afraid to admit they did not even know what challenge came next when they were done with their district tournaments.
Sure, Pavelski and Legg were aware their teams were scheduled to open state tournament play Monday and would need four straight wins to become state champs. The particulars of the opponent or even what district they matched up against, however, were not right on the tips of their tongues.
Too much energy had gone into getting their teams to where they were Thursday.
The Lady Raiders and Meteors both upset unbeaten teams before their district championship games.
Blue Ridge followed that up by repeating its District 2 Class A championship with a 4-1 victory over Bishop O'Hara at Marywood University in Dunmore.
Montrose fell short, losing to Bishop Hoban, 7-4, in the District 2 Class AA final at Lackawanna County Stadium in Moosic. The Meteors, however, took advantage of Class AA baseball being the only of eight tournaments in baseball or softball in which District 2 also qualified its runner-up for the state tournament.
Unbeaten teams had a tough time in District 2 play.
Elk Lake had its perfect record ruined in the Class AA softball final when it fell to Lakeland, 2-1, in 10 innings.
BLUE RIDGE SOFTBALL
Despite the presence of four-year starters Brittany Pavelski and Heather Franks at the two most important positions, pitcher and shortstop, Blue Ridge had some rough times early in the season.
As a result, the Lady Raiders had to beat two higher-seeded teams in order to win the district title. The district championship gives Blue Ridge a shot at defending its state title and reaching the state championship game for the third time in four years.
Franks and Pavelski combined with Joce Dearborn at the top of the batting order and freshman Ashley Luce at the bottom of the order to lead Blue Ridge to two tough victories.
Before beating Bishop O'Hara in the final, Blue Ridge worked past top-seeded and undefeated Old Forge, 4-3, in nine innings in the semifinals. Old Forge came into the game having scored nearly 20 runs for every one it allowed this season.
Improved defense was also a factor.
Pavelski often dominates games, but Old Forge's powerful lineup limited her to three strikeouts in nine innings. That meant the defense had many plays to make and it got through the game with just one error, none in the infield.
"They can see themselves developing better defensively and helping out Brit," coach Pavelski said.
That was not always the case this season.
"In the first two games, we made more errors than in two seasons," coach Pavelski said. "It took a while to figure out where our defensive strengths would be."
After a shaky first inning, the defense was there to help hold Bishop O'Hara scoreless for the final six innings of the championship game.
Bishop O'Hara took a 1-0 lead on two hits, two errors and two sacrifice bunts in the bottom of the first.
Pavelski had seven of her eight strikeouts the rest of the way, including striking out the side in the fifth. She also made quick reactions to snare two dangerous line drives right back at her.
The rest of the infield helped look runners back and twice cut down the lead runner at third base.
Dearborn erased the deficit in the third inning. She hit her second home run of the district tournament and her first over the fence in her high school career for a 2-1 lead in the third.
"That was a shot," coach Pavelski said of Dearborn's blast to left-center field.
Kas Ralston, who led off with a single, also scored.
Blue Ridge stranded three runners in scoring position and had another thrown out between third and home before it added to the lead in the seventh inning.
Luce, who led off the ninth with a single and scored the winning run in the semifinal against Old Forge, got the seventh-inning rally started with a one-out single.
Dearborn grounded hard down the third-base line and reached on an error.
Pavelski was hit by a pitch on her throwing arm to load the bases.
Franks dropped a two-run single into right-center to make the lead, 4-1. The hit completed a 3-for-4 effort.
"Heather is such a clutch hitter," coach Pavelski said.
It was the second straight three-hit game for Franks. She joined Dearborn in providing three hits against Old Forge.
Blue Ridge started the district tournament a week earlier with three home runs in a 12-1 romp over Wyoming Seminary. Ralston went 3-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. Dearborn and Kate Donovan also had homers.
Montrose qualified for the state tournament despite a 7-14 record and 1-11 start.
The district was allowed two teams in state play because of the number of teams in the district.
Meteors coach Todd Legg was tempted to pass on the open district tournament just as the Montrose and Susquehanna softball teams did.
The Meteors wanted to play and Legg, after seeking advice, decided to take the shot.
"I talked to a lot of different people about it, including some coaches in other sports," Legg said after the Meteors followed up a three-win regular season with four straight upset wins in the playoffs. "If we had a young team, there would have been no decision to make. We would have gone for the experience.
"We had six senior starters. They thought we should go, but we were 1-11."
Legg said no one factor convinced him, but it did not hurt that the players insisted they wanted a shot then pulled off two victories over teams with winning records late in the season. Those wins followed a series of near-misses.
"We competed with a lot of teams for about four innings," Legg said.
When Montrose entered the tournament as the 17th seed in a 19-team field, Legg did not know that two teams went to states. There did not seem to be much reason to seek out details like that.
In the first week of the tournament, Montrose downed Hanover Area, 8-6, then knocked off top-seeded and unbeaten Riverside, 10-1, before beating Dallas, 5-4.
It was at that point, preparing for last week's semifinal against Nanticoke that Legg learned his team was a win away from the state tournament.
"I found out they were taking two teams when I was talking to Cal Urso, the Mid Valley coach," Legg said.
Sean Brewer, who pitched the upset win over Riverside, struck out 10 while holding down fourth-seeded Nanticoke in a 9-2 win that clinched the state berth.
Brewer took advantage of a 6-0 lead from a five-run second inning and battled through a game in which he allowed nine hits.
Bill Overfield went 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
In the final, it was Bishop Hoban that took the big lead.
The Meteors fell behind, 7-0, and eventually fell three runs short.
Jeff Snyder's two-run triple high off the wall broke up the shutout and scored Dennis Moore and Justin Lavo with two out in the fifth. Moore was hit by a pitch and Lavo singled.
Collin Musa reached on a two-out walk and scored on an error in the sixth.
Brewer tripled in Moore, who had walked, in the seventh.
"I'm proud of them," Legg said of his team. "We came back. We could have folded."
Montrose extended its season with the worst record of any state tournament team.
"We upset a lot of teams up to this point," Legg said. "It's definitely a unique situation."
ELK LAKE SOFTBALL
Lakeland edged Elk Lake in a tense, 10-inning game in the Class AA final.
The Lady Warriors did not manage a hit for the first three innings against Arielle Pruzinsky, who struck out five out of eight batters at one point in her strong start.
Hustle on the bases helped Amanda Shingler turn the first hit into a run.
Shingler started the fourth with a bunt single and took second on a Tara Dymond sacrifice.
Heather Griffiths lofted a deep flyball into foul territory down the right-field line. Al Carito made the catch for Lakeland, but her momentum took her away from the infield.
Shingler tagged up and never hesitated while racing home with the run that broke the scoreless tie.
Lakeland made Elk Lake starter Katherine Lucenti work.
Lucenti finished the second by getting the last two outs, including the third out by strikeout, with two runners out. She got two outs with two runners in scoring position in the third and got a strikeout to end the fourth with a runner on third base.
After the Lady Chiefs loaded the bases in the fifth, Lucenti came back from a 3-1 count to get Taryn Pruzinsky to pop up to the mound.
Lakeland broke through in the next inning. Lindsey Kraky led off with a single and stole second. Jen Kutch then pinch ran and hurried around to score on a bad throw in the infield.
The teams remained tied until Lakeland scored on a walk, passed ball and wild pitch in the 10th.
The Lady Chiefs threw out Elk Lake's Mindy Minnick at the plate in the ninth inning.
Montrose High School teammates Patrick Bayer and Andrew Bookin competed in the United States Tennis Associations' Middle States Section Eastern District Spring Classic May 27-29 at Birchwood Racquet Club in Clarks Summit.
Bayer reached the finals in the Boys' 16-and-Under Division by eliminating Bookin, who had won his quarterfinal match. Bayer lost to Andrew Petrusky of Easton in the final.
In high school track, Mountain View's Duane Ely and Montrose's Jim Rosemergey are the other county athletes who had produced state championships in addition to the six won by three Susquehanna athletes.
Sophomore pole vaulter Amber Gaffey joined four-time champion hurdler Teresa Covert and boys' pole vaulter Jim Corse as the champions from Susquehanna.
Ely was the first champion, winning the high jump in 1960 by clearing 5-8.
Rosemergey won the 100 meters in 1976.
Gaffey's effort in Shippensburg May 27 was the best in Class AA and the fourth best of any girl in Pennsylvania. Three Class AAA girls did better than Gaffey's winning height of 11-3.
While top track athletes keep pushing records faster, higher and farther, Covert's performance in the 1999 state championship still would hold up among the best.
Covert came within one point of producing the team championship on her own with 29 points and four medals that year.
Covert's winning time of 14.77 that produced her third state 100 meter hurdles title would still have been the best this season. Her winning time of 45.10 in the 300 hurdles would have ranked second best this season. Her triple jump of more than 36 feet would still have ranked sixth. Only the long jump, where Covert finished third in 1999, would have failed to medal this season when it would have been ninth best.
The Blue Ridge softball team and Montrose baseball team were both scheduled to open state play Monday. If they won Monday, they will have quarterfinal games Thursday.
Blue Ridge was trying to get past District 3 champion Upper Dauphin for the chance to play either District 11 champion Minersville or District 4 champion Canton in the quarterfinals.
Montrose needed to beat District 3 champion Halifax for the chance to play either District 1 champion Springfield-Montco or District 12 champion Girard Academy of Music in the quarterfinals.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
BIFFLE Gets Fourth Win Of Season
Dover, DE – Greg Biffle made it look easy as he won Sunday’s RacePoints 400 for his fourth win of the season, and seventh of his career.
Biffle gave car owner, Jack Roush his sixth win of the season.
Driving the No. 16 National Guard Ford, Biffle took the lead for good on lap 241, and except for a late-race pit stop during lap 375 of the 400-lap race, he had by far the dominant car. His margin of victory was 4.3-seconds.
“Early in the race the car was really loose, but the guys got it fixed up,” said Biffle. “It was terrible at the beginning, then after we got all the adjustments made, it was a great race car.”
Rookie Kyle Busch finished second after leading 90 laps. He took on only two tires on the last pit stop, and was no match for Biffle.
“We passed a lot of cars, and it’s pretty cool to run up front,” said Busch. “It’s a lot better being up front than back in the field.”
Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Rusty Wallace rounded out the top-five.
Jeff Gordon had an early exit after a tap from Tony Stewart sent the No. 24 Chevy hard into the Turn 2 wall just 41 laps into the race.
But Gordon said Stewart can expect the same from him.
“Tony was a little bit better than me and, you know, there's no doubt I was holding him up and I wanted to see if my car would come to me, and he just ran out of patience," Gordon said.
"I just think it's uncalled for to start something that fast. I probably would have let him go once we got out there; it's a long race. All I can say is the next time Tony's holding me up, it won't be very long for him to be out of my way."
Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did not see much improvement Sunday, as he finished 22nd, two laps down.
Johnson is now just 46 points ahead of Biffle, and there are 13 drivers eligible for the Chase For the Nextel Cup Championship.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Greg Biffle, 2. Kyle Busch, 3. Mark Martin, 4. Jimmie Johnson, 5. Rusty Wallace, 6. Brian Vickers, 7. Matt Kenseth, 8. Ryan Newman, 9. Kurt Busch, 10. Elliott Sadler.
Current Contenders For The Chase – 1. Johnson-1912, 2. Biffle-1866, 3. Sadler-1681, 4. Newman-1672, 5. Stewart-1606, 6. Martin-1588, 7. R. Wallace-1584, 8. Kurt Busch-1579, 9. Edwards-1574, 10. Harvick-1573, 11. J. Gordon-1562, 12. Mayfield-1538, 13. McMurray-1536.
MARTIN To Run Full Truck Series – Mark Martin, who has said he will retire from a full Cup schedule at the end of the 2005 season, announced that he will run the Craftsman Truck Series in 2006.
"From watching, it looks like the best racing in NASCAR," Martin said. "I like the schedule. They race on Fridays. They race on Saturdays. They have shorter events.
"Every driver I've talked to that runs the series loves it. That's what I want to do."
Unlike some drivers who have stepped down from the major series to run only part-time, Martin will run the entire schedule.
"I'm sure that to Roush Racing and Ford and to our sponsors, the championship is going to be a goal, but I'm not going to get caught up in that because it doesn't matter to me,” continued Martin. "I'm gonna be a fierce competitor, but I really want to focus on having fun and being happy."
Since the beginning of the season, Martin has said that he was interested in running in the Truck series, but until last week, the plan seemed to be for him to field his own trucks.
"I'm more interested in having a ball and the Truck series looks perfect for that," Martin said. "From now on in my racing career, I'm going to do what I want to do, not what's the best business or anything else.”
SHANE HMIEL Fails Drug Test – For the second time in his career, Busch Series driver Shane Hmiel was suspended by NASCAR for testing positive for substance abuse.
Hmiel was escorted out of the Dover garage area by NASCAR officials last Thursday after a practice session.
The 24-year-old driver was previously suspended for over three months at the end of the 2003 season.
Officials had tested Hmiel again following the Busch race at Lowe’s Motor speedway, and made the announcement on Thursday.
With NASCAR’s vigorous stand against drugs, it is possible that Hmiel may never be allowed to return to the NASCAR circuit.
He is the son of Steve Hmiel, the interim crew chief on Dale Earnhardt’s Nextel Cup team.
ROBBY GORDON Wins Mexican Baja 500 – NASCAR Team Owner/Driver Robby Gordon began his double-duty weekend with a SCORE Trophy-Truck victory in the 37th Tecate SCORE Baja 500 desert race in Ensenada, Mexico.
Gordon charged to the front early in his No. 83 Red Bull Chevy CK1500 and stayed there, covering the tough 419-mile course in 9 hours, 10 minutes, 32 seconds, averaging 45.66 miles per hour.
"We earned this one," said Gordon. "The race was tough. It was a pretty slow average and a lot of rocks. It's nice to win one – we've come so close so many times. It was a good run for us. I just drove an easy pace. I am sick so my ears kept popping. We were tight was Jason (Baldwin, No. 1) but then he had a problem – I think he got a flat. We had a great race today.
The top-10 Busch Series leaders: 1. Edwards-1930, 2. Sorenson-1856, 3. Truex-1810, 4. Bowyer-1790, 5. K. Wallace-1700, 6. A. Lewis-1698, 7. Biffle-1686, 8. Hamlin-1618, 9. Stremme-1592, 10. Keller-1548.
The top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders: 1. Musgrave-1200, 2. Craven-1180, Hamilton Sr.-1147, 4. Hornaday-1100, 5. Spencer-1084, 6. Setzer-1064, 7. Crafton-1018, 8. Cook-1007, 9. Starr-977, 10. Benson-958.
All three of NASCAR’s major series will be at different tracks. The Cup cars will be at Pocono Raceway. The Busch Series is at Lebanon, TN, and the Craftsman Trucks travel to Ft. Worth, TX.
Friday, June 14, Craftsman Trucks Fort Worth 400K, race 9 of 25, 167 laps/250 miles, 9 p.m. TV: Speed Channel.
Saturday, June 11, Busch Series Federated Auto Parts 300, race 15 of 35, 225 laps/300 miles, 7:30 p.m. TV: FX Channel.
Sunday, June 12, Nextel Cup Pocono 500, race 14 of 36, 200 laps/500 miles, 1 p.m. TV: Fox.
Racing Trivia Question: Is NASCAR more about racing, or has the sport’s entertainment overshadowed the action on the track?
Last Week’s Question: How old is Ken Schrader, driver of the No. 49 Schwan’s Dodge? Answer: He just turned fifty.
You may read additional stories by the Racing Reporter at www.race500.com. You may write him at P. O. Box 160711, Mobile, AL 36616.
Katherine Lucenti's constant work on the mound meant she had more pitches to work with this season.
That left opposing hitters with more to think about and less chance to solve the Elk Lake pitcher.
"My biggest improvements have been with the spin pitches," Lucenti said. "I had more pitches to choose from. Instead of just fastball and changeup, I can throw a curve, rise or drop.
"They're not always for strikes, but if you get the ball moving, you can get hitters off balance."
Lucenti used that combination to lead Elk Lake to an unbeaten regular season and a division title in the Lackawanna League. The Lady Warriors also advanced to the District 2 Class AA championship where their season ended last week with a 2-1, 10-inning loss to Lakeland.
For her efforts, Lucenti has been selected as the Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Month for May.
During the month, Elk Lake completed its unbeaten regular season.
"We surpassed other people's expectations but not our expectations or our coaches' expectations," Lucenti said.
Lucenti started at Montrose as a freshman before deciding to transfer to Elk Lake. The move allowed her to join many of the girls that have been her softball teammates in the summer since seventh grade.
"I think that it was just something I needed to do for myself," said Lucenti, who lives in Montrose but attends Elk Lake as a tuition student.
The Yellow Jackets, Lucenti's summer team, qualified for the 18-and-under Pony Nationals last season in North Carolina despite having a young lineup for that age group.
"That was a big step for us," Lucenti said.
The skills developed during the summer were evident in the high school season.
Lucenti opened the season with four straight shutouts. She finished with seven shutouts and two no-hitters.
Including league and playoff games, Lucenti went 16-1 with an 0.63 earned run average. She struck out 137 in 112 innings while allowing 56 hits and 27 walks.
During part-time use as a hitter, Lucenti batted .300.
Katherine is the daughter of Tom and Susan Lucenti of Montrose. She has also been a two-year starter on the Elk Lake basketball team.
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