BLAIRSVILLE — With a conference title off the table for third-place Marion Center, the Stingers made the trek to Blairsville on Wednesday with vengeance on their minds.
A blend of solid defense, superb pitching and disciplined offense helped the Stingers play spoiler and blank previously unbeaten Blairsville, 7-0, in a Heritage Conference softball game.
The Bobcats (12-1, 11-1 conference), who handed the Stingers one of their three losses in their first meeting, squandered their chance to clinch at least a share of the conference title with Ligonier Valley.
Blairsville must now win its last two games to claim the conference title. The Bobcats play host to Penns Manor today and then welcome Ligonier Valley on Tuesday.
Marion Center (12-3) dropped its second game of the year to Ligonier Valley on Tuesday. The Stingers travel to Purchase Line today.
“We told the girls on the bus coming in, ‘This team’s 12-0 now, but they’re going to be 12-1 at the end of the day,’” Marion Center coach Ed Peterson said. “We wanted to instill that confidence in them and keep the mantra to just put the ball in play. They’re a great team, but we wanted to try and make them beat themselves, and in that one inning, you definitely saw that a little bit.”
With Blairsville ace Emilie Okopal on the mound, Peterson and the Stingers planned to consistently put the ball in play and then run the bases with aggression.
The Stingers succeeded in playing small-ball almost from the get-go, capitalizing on a hit, an error and four walks in the top of the second inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
Karlie Snyder put Marion Center on the board first when she singled, stole second and later scored when Megan Risinger drew a bases-loaded walk.
Two batters later, Okopal worked Heidi Peterson to a full count with the bases loaded, only to walk the Stingers’ No. 3 hitter on a fastball that missed low and inside. The walk allowed Katie Dotts to score from third, giving Marion Center a 2-0 lead.
Meagan Robinson then cracked a sharp grounder that shortstop Mackenzie Livingston misplayed to allow Sam Frye to score and extend the Stingers’ lead to 3-0.
“Emilie’s a great pitcher who I’ve known for years,” Ed Peterson said. “We just got on her early and rattled her a little bit. That was game plan from the get-go. We just wanted to put the ball on the bat and force them to make plays.”
The Stingers held on to their 3-0 lead until they erupted to plate three more runs on three hits and three errors in the fifth.
Dotts reached base on an error and then scored on a two-out base hit from Risinger. On the same play, Courtney McMahan and Risinger each scored on a pair of throwing errors, and Marion Center stretched the lead to 6-0.
“We haven’t been playing very well lately,” Blairsville coach Frank Harsh said. “We’ve been committing a lot of errors, but we’ve still been winning. But when you play a team like this you just can’t do that and expect to win.”
Dotts belted a two-out RBI single to score Amber McClure and extend Marion Center’s lead to 7-0 in the seventh.
Risinger, a sophomore who notched her 15th straight complete game and her 12th complete-game win, stymied Blairsville’s potent lineup. She struck out nine, did not issue a walk, and only allowed Jess Harper, Sam Harsh and Shelby Oswald to reach base on singles.
“I just kept warm and mixed up my pitches. The biggest thing was keeping them off balance,” Risinger said. “I don’t worry about who we’re playing. I just pitch every pitch how I want and everything goes from there.”
Okopal tossed her 13th straight complete game and suffered her first loss of the year. She finished with two strikeouts and a season-high seven walks.
“Emilie just wasn’t on her game,” Frank Harsh said. “She had seven walks today and she only had seven walks all year coming in. She definitely wasn’t on her game, and when I walked out to talk to her, I could tell she was trying to do everything herself. You can’t do that. You’ve got to try and allow your team to make plays, and she was overdoing it.”