LIGONIER - Juniata gave up just eight hits but committed six errors Thursday in the District 6 Class AA quarterfinals at Donaldson Ball Fields in Ligonier.
The Indians made a late run but could not overcome an early deficit in a 10-4 loss, ending their season.
The matchup featured two squads that pulled off major upsets in the opening round. No. 10 Ligonier Valley (15-3) took a 7-5 thriller against No. 7 Bald Eagle Area. In the shock of the tournament, 15th-seeded Juniata (8-9) took down No. 2 Penn Cambria, which won the Heritage Conference, by an 8-3 score.
"We saw a good team today," Ligonier Valley manager Mark Zimmerman said about facing an opponent that just upset a top seed. "They made some mistakes, but they know how to play softball."
"We tried to play the same game we played last week," Juniata manager Brian Sheaffer said. "When you play a good team, you can't make (the mistakes that we made).
"Last week against Penn Cambria, we didn't do that."
The errors piled up early on the Indians. After Ligonier Valley's Maddy Grimm singled in the first, Jackie Berry reached on an error. Two batters later, Berry scored on a wild pitch. Juniata pitcher Brinley Irvin overthrew Mady Marrone at first base twice in as many innings, both resulting in scores.
"(Brinley's) a freshman, so she was a little nervous," Sheaffer said. She gave up all 10 Ligonier Valley runs in the first three innings. "But she calmed down and shut (Ligonier Valley) down toward the end."
The Rams were opportunistic throughout the contest. Juniata committed four errors in the first two innings, and Ligonier Valley converted each one into a score. Brittney Yesko led the way with three RBIs in those innings, including a two-run sacrifice fly that plated Rachel Wallace and Courtney Frappier. Wallace's score would be the game winner.
"When the first girl gets on and the second girl gets on (on an error), you start getting nervous," Zimmerman said. "Then the simple plays start getting hard.
"(Juniata) got themselves behind a little bit more than they could come back from."
Trailing 10-1 entering the top of the fifth, the tables turned as the Rams made two critical fielding errors that allowed the Indians to get on a run.
"(My players) know that you have to let it go," Zimmerman said of the mistakes that allowed Juniata back into the game. "I told them that we just have to pick up, forget about it, and let's go.
"And we went out there and shut (Juniata) down after that."
With two outs and one on base, Berry dropped a fly ball at the left field line. One batter later, Jeanie Markosky botched another fly in center that brought home Marrone and Kristen Pray. Irvin then doubled to plate Micheh Horning. The lead was cut to six, but it would not get any closer.
"We got to our game a little bit," Sheaffer said, adding that his team has thrived on hitting the ball all year long. "They don't give up, and they keep fighting. But we dug ourselves too big of a hole."
For Juniata, the season is over, but the Indians are set up for success in the future. Although his team was obviously upset about the loss, Sheaffer applauded his team for its performance against Penn Cambria and throughout the year.
"Every time in (district playoffs) you can't slack, you have to bring it," said Shaffer, who also noted that his freshman pitcher seemed to settle in throughout the contest and will be prepared for next year. "You see what it takes, and that's what we have to do."