PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. – Sara Gotwald isn’t the normal catcher for Punxsutawney.
That would be Avery Powell.
But Powell was on a trip to the United States Naval Academy meaning Gotwald, who had batted 10 times all season, was forced into the starting catcher role.
And the freshman delivered in a big way going 3-for-4 with two RBIs, including the game-ending RBI in Punxsutawney’s 11-1, six-inning win over Somerset in the District 5-9 Class 3A subregional semifinals Friday at Punxsutawney.
Rewatch the game
“I found out, I think, two weeks ago (that I was going to start),” Gotwald said. “I was pretty nervous the whole game.”
If Gotwald was nervous, you would never know it.
She helped the Lady Chucks (10-9) to a 3-1 lead with an RBI single in the second and then had not one, but two big hits in an eight-run sixth inning that put the game in the books for Punxsutawney.
“Yeah (I felt somewhat comfortable),” Gotwald, who was 4-for-10 on the season coming into the game, said. “I was still pretty nervous, though.”
Gotwald’s manager, Brad Constantino, wasn’t surprised at what she was able to accomplish.
“Sara stepped up in a huge situation,” Constantino said. “She plays a lot of competitive ball. We knew she would come out and battle tonight. I was just very, very happy with what she gave us. Her and (starting pitcher) Ciara (Toven) were on the same page tonight. And she came through big at the plate. She came through big at the plate.”
Gotwald was also involved in what was perhaps the play of the game.
With Punxsutawney leading 3-1 in the third inning, Somerset (9-12) loaded the bases with no one out for its cleanup hitter, Mckenna Sheeler.
Sheeler hit a fly ball to center that was caught by Olivia Toven.
The runner on third, Savannah Landis, had originally broken toward the plate on the hit and had to retreat to third to tag up, which she did. But Toven threw a missile to the plate, and Gotwald applied the tag for the double play.
“We do that in practice,” Constantino said. “I loved the execution tonight. We made the plays we had to make at important times.”
Buoyed, perhaps, by her younger sister’s strong throw, Ciara Toven then struck out Riley Wencek to end the threat turning away the Eagles without a run crossing the plate.
That pretty much summed up Ciara Toven’s day in the circle.
She wasn’t overpowering allowing seven hits and three walks while striking out five. But she found ways to stand seven Somerset runners on base with the Eagles leaving at least one runner on in five of their six plate appearances, including two on twice.
“I saw that she was struggling and getting frustrated,” Gotwald said. “I just kept on trying to talk to her to calm her down, and she started getting the hang of things.”
Constantino knew his junior starter wasn’t going to give in when Somerset put runners on base.
“She will battle,” Constantino said. “She gets out of a lot of jams just because she continues to grind. She refuses to give up. She makes big pitches at opportune times.”
Ciara Toven needed to work out of the jams, as the game was tight through the first five innings.
After Somerset scored a run on a wild pitch in the first, Punxsutawney answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first thanks, in part, to a decision by Sheeler, the Somerset pitcher, that ended up costing her two runs.
After Lacie Poole doubled leading off the inning for the Lady Chucks, Ciara Toven hit a comebacker to the circle. But instead of taking the sure out at first, Sheeler turned and threw to second trying to get Poole, who had taken a couple of initial steps towards third. But Poole got back, and Punxsutawney had runners on first and second with no outs.
Karli Young then laid down a sacrifice bunt, and after a strikeout, Olivia Toven came through with a two-run single to put Punxsutawney ahead for good when courtesy runner Kaylee Guidice just beat the rap at home.
The Lady Chucks added a third run in the second when Brinley Hallman led off with a single, stole second, and moved to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Gotwald’s first hit.
The game stayed at 3-1 until the eight-run sixth inning.
Hallman got that rally started too with a double over the head of left fielder Landis and stole third before a base hit by Brooke Skarbek drove her home. Skarbek stole second and went to third on a base hit by Gotwald, who was replaced by courtesy runner Makenna Gula.
That was the last pitch Sheeler threw, as she was replaced in the circle by Brooklyn Thomas.
Thomas’s appearance got off to a tough start to no fault of her own when Gila stole second and new catcher Willa Sharbaugh, who had moved from second to catcher during the pitching change, threw to third to try to pick off Skarbek and threw the ball into leftfield allowing Skarbek to score to make it 5-1.
Gula then went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Poole to make it 6-1.
Ciara Toven continued the onslaught with a double to center and her courtesy runner Syndey Hoffman scored when Karli Young singled up the middle.
Brynn Hergert and Oliva Toven then followed with singles to load the bases before Guidice, who had entered at third base a couple of innings earlier, shot a two-run single to center to make it 9-1.
Hallman then walked to reload the bases, and Skarbek singled home a run before Gotwald ended the game with a base hit.
“I thought we were making better swings,” Constantino said. “We were hitting better pitches. Sometimes, we help pitches by swinging at bad balls. I thought our selection of attacking good pitches was really good tonight.”
Punxsutawney moves into the subregional title game against Chestnut Ridge, who beat Bedford 13-1 in six innings, in the subregional title game next week at a time and date to be announced.
“We are really excited,” Gotwald said.
Watch Gotwald’s full postgame interview after she was named the Allegheny Grille of Foxburg Player of the Game.
Poole also had three hits in the game going 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RI, while Olivia Toven was 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs, and Hergert was 2-for-4 with a run scored.
Baumgardner went 2-for-3 as did Gracie Bowers for Somerset.
Ciara Toven got the win allowing the one earned run.
Sheeler took the loss going five-plus innings allowing six earned runs on 10 hits while striking out three. Thomas was charged with five earned runs on seven hits and a walk in a ⅓ of an inning.