SOFTBALL: Extra Difficult: Lady Dragons stopped by Fort LeBoeuf once again — in 10 innings

ERIE – A tough loss to swallow.

Little things came into play a lot during the District 10 Class AAA championship game between co-Region 7 champions Warren and Fort LeBoeuf on Monday at Penn State Behrend.

“In a close game like that, those are the kinds of situations I’m always preaching the little things, little things, little things,” said Warren coach Mark Bupp, whose Dragons fell victim to Fort LeBoeuf for a third straight year in the D10 final – this time 2-1 in 10 innings.

With Fort LeBoeuf senior pitcher Amanda Krolczyk and Warren junior Alexa Bupp working out of trouble for most of the first nine innings, the international tiebreaker rule was used to start the 10th, with the last batter of the ninth starting the inning on second base.

The Dragons weren’t able to bunt the runner over and, actually, neither were the Bison. But a line drive off the glove of Bupp moved Fort LeBoeuf’s runner to third in the bottom of the 10th, and an RBI hit from junior catcher Kelsey Kuzma won it in dramatic fashion.

Warren split with Fort LeBoeuf in the regular season, including a 9-0 Dragons win earlier this month. Warren finishes 16-2 overall. The last time a team other than Fort LeBoeuf has beaten Warren was May 10, 2011, in a regular season loss against Mercyhurst Prep.

“It’s a tough loss (for us) to swallow, but we’ll go back to the drawing board,” said Warren coach Mark Bupp, whose Dragons have been to the District 10 championship game five straight seasons, winning in 2010 – the freshman seasons of now seniors Jaimie Eaton, Taylor Mineweaser and Erica Blair.

“We just didn’t hit the ball today,” said a frustrated but composed Eaton.

“From my freshman year, I learned a lot from the older girls, six or seven seniors that played that year; I knew what they expected, from how to run practices to making sure people kept positive attitudes,” she said. “I knew from that point on, it would be a success. I know that they’ll be back next year, even without us three seniors. They all have the experience, and they all know how to win.”

Warren was 4-7 in 2011 before winning eight straight and advancing to play Fort LeBoeuf in the D10 final. Last year, Warren finished 18-2 with both losses to LeBoeuf, including in the championship game, and; entered Monday’s championship game at 16-1 with its only loss to LeBoeuf. That’s 40-0 against everyone other than Fort LeBoeuf since May 10, 2011, and 2-5 vs. LeBoeuf.

“The bottom line was, we just weren’t productive (today),” said coach Bupp. “”We just couldn’t roll the lineup today.”

Warren went hitless until the third inning when Kathryn Lobdell led off with her first of two hits from the eighth spot in the order. Kennedy Walter sacrificed her over to third, and Lobdell scored when Kaitlin Ishman beat out a chopper to short.

1-0 Warren.

In the meantime, Alexa Bupp started strong, striking out four of the first five batters in the game, and stranding runners on second in the first two innings.

In the bottom of the third, Bupp’s only walk of the game ended up at third after a one-out single by Kuzma, who was 4-for-5 on the day. Jolene Young hit a high fly ball to Warren centerfielder Kennedy Walter, who gunned it over the cutoff man’s head to the plate and the ball got past catcher Paige Wilson. Julie Pace only raced to the plate when the ball got by, but Wilson flipped to pitcher Bupp covering, and Warren was out of trouble with a double play.

Bupp worked around a meaningless error in the bottom of the fourth, and went three up, three down in the fifth.

Fort LeBoeuf’s Krolczyk was throwing well, too, having pitched to the minimum in three of the first five innings. She got a bit lucky in the top of the sixth, when Warren had runners on first and second and one out. After Ishman walked and advanced to second on a groundout, Krolczyk intentionally walked the freshman Wilson, who entered the game at a .610 clip. Alexa Bupp followed with a hard shot right at the shortstop Allania Banta, who managed the force out at third after composing herself. Krolczyk then got out of the inning with a three-pitch strikeout.

In the bottom half, Kuzma and Young singled before Bupp forced out Kuzma at third on a sac bunt attempt. With first and second and one out, Alex Carroll ripped a base hit to right and Warren rightfielder Blair bobbled it before coming up and firing to the plate. Wilson put the tag on Young, but the LeBoeuf runner was called safe despite Wilson pointing out to the umpire that Young had still not reached home plate.

Bupp and Krolczyk kept the game tied even without a strikeout from the bottom of the seventh through the ninth.

Wilson had the biggest blast of the game, with a shot caught at the center-field fence in the bottom of the third – 10 feet from a two-run homer. Krolczyk intentionally walked Wilson a second time in the game, with two outs and nobody on in the top of the eighth inning, but it didn’t come back to hurt her.

With Warren’s Mineweaser starting on second (international rules) in the top of the 10th, Warren failed to get a bunt down for a strikeout, then flew out and grounded out, leaving two on.

In the bottom half, Banta failed on two sac bunt attempts before sending Pace to third on a base-hit liner off Bupp’s glove. Kuzma calmly drove a pitch through the infield to win the game, and cause a Fort LeBoeuf celebration at home plate.

“It seemed like we were half a bat off,” said coach Bupp. “We played out there and lost in a 3-2 game, but we stranded 12 runners and came away saying we didn’t do our job. We certainly played our game (in Warren) and put them away, 9-0. Today, I think it goes to the fact we could not roll the lineup and we had opportunities. If we could have snuck in one more run, that changes the complexion of the game.”

Bupp credited Fort LeBoeuf for making “good in-game adjustments” at the plate. Alexa Bupp finished with five strikeouts – three in the first inning – in a season in which she gave up eight earned runs over 102 innings.

With three senior starters, Warren returns six starters next year.

“We do have a good nucleus, but the younger kids have to realize there’s some big shoes to fill from a performance perspective and leadership perspective,” said coach Bupp. “The seniors, I told them they were able to be a part of something special for four years running. They played in four District 10 championship games, and it’s to their credit they were able to be there. They contributed the entire time they were here.”

NOTES: Prior to the game, and after the introduction of starting lineups and coaches, a moment of silence was observed in honor of the late Mark Garrett, a PIAA softball official from Warren, who passed away unexpectedly less than two weeks ago. His father, Warren’s Jan Garrett, also a longtime PIAA official, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

WARREN (1): ab-r-h-rbi, Ishman 2b 3-0-1-1, Eaton ss 4-0-0-0, Wilson c 2-0-0-0, Munksgard cr 0-0-0-0, Bupp p 4-0-0-0, Loutzenhiser 1b 4-0-0-0, Blair rf 4-0-1-0, Mineweaser 3b 4-0-0-0, Lobdell lf 4-1-2-0, Walter cf 3-0-0-0. Totals 32-1-4-1.

FORT LeBOEUF (2): Banta ss 4-0-2-0, Kuzma c 5-0-4-1, Young 1b 4-1-1-0, Krolczyk p 4-0-2-0, Cass cr 0-0-0-0, Carroll cf 2-0-1-1, Luke 3b 4-0-1-0, Brown 2b 4-0-0-0, Oldach dp 4-0-0-0, Stempka lf 0-0-0-0, Pace rf 3-1-0-0. Totals 34-2-11-2.

Warren 001 000 000 0 – 1 4 3

Fort LeBoeuf 000 001 000 1 – 2 11 0

2b-Luke (F). WP-Krolczyk. LP-Bupp.

Pitching (ip-h-er-r-bb-k): W-Bupp, 9+-11-2-1-1-5; F-Krolczyk, 10-4-1-1-5-5.