UNIVERSITY PARK — Cam Byler just wanted to put the ball in play. She put it out of play. Way out.
Byler's two-run homer, a bullet that cleared the left-field fence by plenty, was the crusher in a game that featured multiple blows and Lampeter-Strasburg regained the PIAA Class 5A championship with a 10-7 victory over Armstrong on Friday afternoon at Penn State's Beard Field.
Byler's blast capped what has been typical L-S inning as the Pioneers (30-1) put up a crooked number in the fifth inning, scoring five times. In a senior-centric lineup — including three starters, Byler, Daisy Frank and Chloe Blantz, who played for the Pioneers’ 2018 title-winning team and their 2019 state runner-up side — it was the lower end of the lineup, sophomores Brooke Zuber and Ally Raub and freshman Julia Gerard, that triggered all three of the Pioneers' scoring rallies.
Zuber was 3 for 4 with three runs scored. Raub also was 3 for 4, with a key RBI double in L-S's three-run third, when the Pioneers took their first lead.
Gerard was 0 for 2, but moved the runners, setting up a two-run double by Blantz that righted a ship heavily listing in the second inning. And Gerard’s third-inning sac fly gave the Pioneers the lead, 5-4. She hit the ball on the nose in the fifth, right at short, but Sydney Weichler picked her up, drilling a double that plated Zuber and Raub with the go-ahead runs, 7-6, chasing Riverhawks starter Cameryn Sprankle.
"I was just trying to block out everybody screaming," Weichler said. "I knew I needed to get these runs in. When I hit it, it was like, 'Oh my God, this is happening.' "
Daisy Frank singled in Weichler, then crossed the plate as Byler's homer settled in the grass beyond the left-field fence.
"I was telling myself to just get the bat on the ball, don't do anything crazy, you just need to get the runners moving around," Byler said.
"I was running around the bases really hard," Frank said, "and then I looked up and I was like, 'My goodness, it's over!' "
As was, pretty much, the game.
It began inauspiciously for L-S as Armstrong (18-6) jumped on Keiva Middleton for four runs in the second inning. They loaded the bases on a single, double and walk before Middleton got an out. One run came in on a wild pitch as the Hawks turned the lineup over, and a second run scored on a bang-bang play at home on a fielder's choice.
Then, Emma Paul drove in a pair of runs on an infield single, as the Hawks ran the bases with abandon and L-S was knocked down.
But not out.
"It was definitely not ideal," Middleton said of falling into a 4-0 hole. "I felt there was a lot of game left and I had confidence in our team that we could come back."
Which the Pioneers began to do in the bottom of the second as Zuber lived on an error, Raub hit an infield single and Gerard moved them on a ground ball to the right side. With two out, Blantz hit the hardest ball of the day —on a day of hard-hit balls — doubling to the fence in center.
"We needed that," Blantz said. "They were hitting Keiva and I was a little nervous of what was going to happen."
Middleton helped her cause in the third with a one-out solo homer. "It felt good off the bat," she said. After Emily Platt and Zuber singled, Raub tied the game with a hit. Followed by Gerard's sac fly.
Armstrong regained the lead in their half of the fourth. Emma Smerick singled with one out, stole second and tagged and scored on Paul's line-drive to center. Except she was halfway to third when Gerard caught the ball, and just kept on coming.
L-S appealed, and was denied.
"That would've sucked if we would have lost because of that," Blantz said. "But now that we didn't, it's not a big deal."
It was a big deal when Mackenzie Egley followed with a solo homer over left, putting the Hawks back on top, 6-5. They could not hold the advantage.
Armed with a four-run lead, Middleton yielded Paul's RBI single in the sixth — Paul would finish with four RBI — but closed out the title in the seventh on a foul out to Byler at first, a strikeout and a fly to left, joyfully squeezed by Zuber.