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Blue Devils win surprising fourth straight D2 Class 1A title

Above, Old Forge’s Dana Bilski smacks a second-inning single for the Blue Devils during their 7-3, eight-inning win over Blue Ridge for the District 2 Class 1A title at Mid Valley High School on Wednesday. Below left, Blue Devils third baseman Lindsay Regan makes one of her game-high six assists for a putout at first base. Below right, Old Forge centerfielder Lauren Carey makes a catch.

photo s by rick notari

Top, Old Forge’s Nicole Marianelli fires a strike to the plate during the Blue Devils win over Blue Ridge. Far left, Sarah Fish watches her two-run, eighth-inning double to right center. Above left, Andi Alsalahat makes a play at shortstop for the Blue Devils; and at left, Old Forge left fielder Taylor Nemetz makes a throw to second.

photos by rick notari

A season to forget turned into one to remember as the Old Forge softball team captured its fourth consecutive District 2 Class 1A championship with a 7-3, eight-inning victory over Blue Ridge at Mid Valley High School on Wednesday in Throop.

Coming off of a four-win regular-season, the outlook wasn’t good for the Blue Devils as they entered the district tournament as the fifth-seed out of six teams. But after two wins on the road to open the postseason – including a semifinal victory against top-seeded Northwest – Coach Pat Revello’s nine was all set for a sixth consecutive showdown with the Lady Red Raiders in the title game.

“This team worked just as hard as any team in the past 12 years and they really deserve this,” said Revello after his 222nd career victory. “Just walking around with a target on your back all the time like we do may have got to them at times during the season. But the competition that we play in our division gets us ready for the postseason and games like this.”

A game like this was nothing more than your typical, gut-wrenching championship matchup between the Lackawanna League small-school titans. And for seven innings it looked as if whichever team took advantage of a mistake would be the team that wore the crown.

Blue Ridge had its first opportunity in its first at-bat when Gabby Wolfe reached on an error and moved to second on another error off the bat of Jackie Furch. After Nicole Marianelli induced a weak grounder back to the circle, Courtney Ucci reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases.

But Marianelli settled in and got a short fly ball out to Taylor Nemetz in right before striking out the final batter of the first inning to get out of the jam.

Old Forge (7-10) got on the board in the top of the third when Marianelli doubled over the right fielder’s head with one out, driving in Nemetz who had led off with a bunt single before moving to second when Lauren Carey drew a walk. The Blue Devils would leave Carey and Marianelli stranded, but led 1-0.

Marianelli kept the lead into the fifth after retiring six straight after a leadoff double by Wolfe in the bottom of the third. But in the fifth, Blue Ridge took advantage of an error and a bloop double by Wolfe to even the score at 1-1.

Marianelli allowed just two hits over the first seven innings and did not walk a batter while striking out three. The senior has earned all three playoff victories for the Blue Devils after taking over in the circle late in the season.

“I think the big change was Nicole’s senior leadership,” said Andi Alsalahat of Marianelli’s move to the mound and the Blue Devils instant success. “Nicole was more vocal when she became the pitcher and it seemed to relax us more.

“She had been here before in the big games, and it made a difference. Our bats are coming alive. We are playing better in the field. Everything is starting to come together.”

The Blue Devils went three-up-three down in the sixth and seventh, but so did the Lady Red Raiders as senior Lindsay Regan continued her flawless play at third base with three assists on six of the outs. Regan was also part of a late-season change which saw her move from short back to third where she excelled as a junior.

In the eighth, lightning struck for Old Forge as the breaks that had gone against them all season finally went their way.

Nemetz reached on an error when Kaitlyn Krug couldn’t handle the freshman’s bunt and Carey smacked a single to right which got by Erin Salinkas to put runners at second and third with no out.

Andi Alsalahat followed with a sharp grounder to Jenna Rupakus and the Blue Ridge second baseman gunned down Nemetz at the plate for the first out of the inning.

But the Blue Devils were just getting started.

Marianelli hit a fly ball to the warning track for a sacrifice fly to score Carey, and Chelsea Cadwalder followed with an RBI double that one-hopped the left centerfield fence to give score Alsalahat and give Old Forge a 3-1 lead.

With Michelle Giacometti running for Cadwalder on the speed-up rule, the junior moved to third when Lindsay Regan reached on an infield single, and scored when Wolfe dropped a popup off the bat of Bilski.

Sarah Fish and Jess Casey then delivered the knockout blow for the Blue Devils with a two-run double and an RBI-single respective to put Old Forge ahead, 7-1. The senior duo had struck out in each of their three previous plate appearances before coming up with the big hits.

“You put the ball in play and things happen,” said Revello. “Those three girls just kept battling at the plate and came up big for us. It’s nothing new for this senior group.

“Everyone of them have come up big for us during their careers.”

Blue Ridge tried to rally in the bottom of the eighth with two straight singles to start the inning. Marianelli retired Carissa Hawk on another short flyball to Nemetz, and Ucci on a one-hopper back to the circle for two quick outs. But Rupakus doubled to cut the deficit to 7-3.

There would be no comeback however as Marianelli retired Salinkas on a grounder to Bilski at first which the senior took herself to set off another Old Forge celebration.

“Once the postseason started we really wanted to come through and show everyone we could get the fourth (district title) and we did,” said Bilski. “It feels real good to win this and go on to the state playoffs.”

Marianelli and Nemetz each had two hits for the Blue Devils as eight of the nine hitters in the lineup smacked at least one hit.

Old Forge will take on District 3 champ Greenwood (17-3) in the first round of the PIAA Class 1A Tournament at Lebanon Valley College on Monday at 2 p.m. The Blue Devils defeated Claysburg-Kimmel at LVC in the Eastern Final in 2009

Greenwood won the Tri-Valley League and is paced by pitcher Anna Heggenstaller who was 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA. Heggenstaller also led the TVL with a .583 average and 17 RBI. A win puts Old Forge in the PIAA Quarterfinals on Thursday against the winner of the Wyalusing-West Branch game at a site and time to be determined.

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