By GREG MENGELT
Meredith Endris tossed a four-hit shutout as Providence defeated Paoli 3-0 in the Class 2A Eastern Sectional semifinal on Tuesday.
Endris and the Pioneers will face the host Musketeers, who earned a 3-2 come-from-behind semifinal victory over Crawford County on Tuesday, in Thursday’s championship game at 5:30 p.m.
Providence (20-8) beat Eastern 9-2 on April 10 and is the heavy favorite to win its second consecutive sectional title for the first time in program history.
“All year we knew there would be two or three teams we would be competing against [for the sectional championship],” Providence coach Sean Payne said. “When we saw the blind draw, we knew it would be tough to get out of our side. We excited about the opportunity to play for a championship.”
“Every day is the most important game of the season from here on out,” Providence junior Melinda Cochran said.
Endris never gave up more than one hit in any inning against Paoli’s powerful offense. She gave up four singles and allowed the Rams’ best hitter, Stephanie Moore, just one hit. She struck out four and walked four.
“I tried to keep the ball outside because [Paoli] can crush inside pitches,” Endris said. “Coach Payne showed me the scouting report and that gave me confidence against their batters. I just took it one pitch at a time.”
“Obviously, she pitched a great game,” Cochran said of Endris.
Providence took the lead in the top of the first inning when Jordyn Stengel walked with one out and scored on Jacquie Hornung’s two-out single into left field.
“I talked to them in the pre-game about setting a tone early,” Payne recalled. “When we put an early run on the board, with our pitching and defense, we put pressure on them and put their backs against the wall.”
“It makes me confident when we have a lead,” Endris said. “That first run meant a lot.”
After the Pioneers’ first run, the contest became a pitching duel. Only two Rams (15-9) got past first base in the first six innings and Paoli pitcher Taylor Pigg retired 12 Pioneers in a row before a Cochran two-out double in the fifth.
After stranding two runners in the top of the sixth, Providence gave Endris a cushion with two runs in the seventh.
Karly Baumann opened the frame with a double that hit the left-center fence on one hop.
“She went up with the attitude that she was going to hit the ball,” Cochran said of Baumann. “Obviously, she does good things for us.”
Pigg then hit Charly Wolford with a pitch to put runners on first and second. A bunt single by Cochran loaded the bases with no outs and the top of the Providence order coming to the plate.
Morgan Boone’s bunt single pushed Baumann across for a 2-0 Pioneer lead. Two batters later, Endris deliver with a line drive into left field that scored Cochran.
“Those last two runs definitely put a lot of confidence in me,” Endris said.
Endris allowed a two-out single to Paoli’s Autumn Bye in the bottom of the seventh, but she shut the door on Kate Hamilton for the final out.
“Meredith pitched an awesome game,” Payne said. “And defensively, our girls are flat out bringing it right now.”
Cochran went 2-for-3 and Stengel reached base three times. Both scored a run.
EASTERN 3, CRAWFORD COUNTY 2
In the second semifinal, Crawford County pitcher Mandi McClain shut down the Musketeers through six innings and gave the Wolfpack (15-8) a 2-0 lead heading into the top of the seventh.
That’s when Eastern (3-18) rallied for three runs and eventually a spot in Thursday’s championship.
The Musketeers’ Amber Higginbotham opened the seventh with a single. After McClain hit Eastern’s Rebecca Gilstrap with a pitch, Morgan Martin singled to bring home Higginbotham. After Kayla Beach sacrificed Martin to third base, the Musketeers’ Courtney Hoke came through with a game-winning RBI single.
The Pack got the tying run to third and the winning run to second against Eastern starter Darcee Rogers, but Rogers got Crawford’s Jeda Smith to ground out to second base to end the contest.
Rogers allowed just three Crawford hits, including a Zoie Hensley home run to lead off the top of the fourth inning, and struck out six in the win.
Martin went 2-for-3 with a walk. Gilstrap reached base three times and Mykenzi Taylor and Higginbotham both reached twice for the Musketeers, who had five hits in all.