LIGONIER - Top-seeded Ligonier Valley's path to a 6-0 win over Juniata during Thursday's District 6 Class AA softball tournament appeared to be tougher than most 1-over-16 games usually are.
The host Rams (19-1) rallied for three runs in the first and scored thrice more in the sixth to put away the spunky Indians during the first-round contest at Friendship Park in Ligonier. While the win was expected by most, Ligonier Valley coach Mark Zimmerman knows better than to judge Juniata strictly on its record, which now rests at 6-14.
"Juniata is a nice team," Zimmerman said. "They have a nice short game and they fell behind and sometimes that takes teams out of it a bit. That's a nice team and they play in a tough conference. You've got to be tough to be .500 or better where they play. I know some of the schools up there, they're all good softball schools."
With a majority of Juniata's core returning next season, the future appears to be bright for the Mifflintown squad.
"I think we played well," Juniata coach Brian Sheaffer said. "I told the girls that I was very proud of them. We've got seven of the nine girls coming back next year."
Juniata scratched out six hits against Rams pitcher Hailey Umbaugh, who struck out three batters and benefitted from 10 groundouts on her way to the complete-game win.
Double-play grounders to second baseman Courtney Lear ended potential uprisings in the first and third innings.
"They made the right plays," Sheaffer said. "I told our girls to stop and make them come (make the tag). Just one of those things with young girls that's unfortunate."
With one gone in the first, Lear singled to right and took third a batter later when Kristen Gabelt's fly ball to center bounced out of Micheh Horning's glove. Breane Wallace's single up the middle plated Lear and Gabelt. Wallace scored from third on a wild pitch from Maddie Zendt with Sarah Michaels at the plate. Zendt rallied to strike out Michaels to end the inning. Zendt struck out two, allowed seven hits and walked six. Three of those six walks were intentional passes to Gabelt, the Rams' senior No. 3 hitter on her way to play softball at Robert Morris. Maddy Grimm's one-out triple to center kickstarted the Rams' sixth-inning outburst. Lear followed with an infield single before Gabelt was walked to load the bases. Wallace's double to left-center scored Grimm and Lear. Finally after teasing to extend the lead between the second and fifth, the Rams had some breathing room.
"It was close, it was very close," Zimmerman said. "A couple girls get on, they get a hit and all of a sudden, it becomes a one-run game. That helped a lot to put some runs on the board late."
Gabelt scored a batter later on Lizzie Newhouse's groundout to second to make it 6-0.
"We had a couple errors in the first inning to give them the three runs," Sheaffer said. "Otherwise it's 0-0 going into the bottom of the sixth. They hit the ball in the sixth to get the other runs."
The Indians' last gasp at cracking Umbaugh came in the seventh as Alesha Reed singled before Alyssa Graybill reached first on a fielding error by Grimm. Two straight infield pop-ups followed before the runners advanced a base on a wild pitch.
Umbaugh caught pinch-hitter Macy O'Donnell looking at a third strike to wrap up the victory. Horning had two of the Indians' six hits while Grimm, Lear and Wallace each had two hits for Ligonier Valley. Ligonier Valley faces Bald Eagle Area a 3-1 winner over Central Cambria on Wednesday in Monday's 6-AA quarterfinal.