WEST GROVE — Book the bus, Lampeter-Strasburg softball is headed back to Penn State.
For the third time in four seasons, the defending state champion Pioneers (28-1) will play for the PIAA Class 5A title.
They punched their return ticket Tuesday afternoon at blustery and sun-splashed Avon Grove High School, defeating District One champion West Chester East 5-2.
L-S will face Penn-Trafford for the title Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field. Game time is 4 p.m.
Penn-Trafford topped Donegal 5-4, spoiling the prospects of an all-Lancaster-Lebanon League state final.
Senior right-hander Brynne Baker took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and contributed to the Pioneers’ nine-hit attack with two RBI hits, a double and a single.
Cam Byler added an RBI double, Julz Garber doubled in a run and Gabby Drumm ripped a line-drive home run that exited the field in a hurry over left-center.
Making their first appearance in the state semifinals, the Vikings (24-3) played without top-of-the-order threats Kinzie Thompson and Kelsey MacLaughlin, who opted to remain at the shore after graduation.
Nonetheless, East threatened from the jump as Amanda Gomez reached on a one-out, three-base error on a fly ball to left.
Pioneers coach Gene Charles walked power bat Kayla MacLaughlin intentionally and Baker went to work on Sam Gomez.
“I knew I just had to focus on my pitches,” said Baker, at this point in her career no stranger to pitching with runners on base.
“I’m not a very emotional pitcher, so it’s easy to not get affected by the runners,” she added. “I know we have to just keep pushing through.”
She got Gomez on strikes and Olivia Ronayne on a ground ball to short to end the threat.
Then the Pioneers went to work.
Chloe Blantz singled with two out and Baker slugged a double off the fence in deep left to score her.
“That felt really good, I’ve been in a little slump,” she said. “I was ready to start hitting again.”
With one out in the second, Drumm fouled off a change-up, to fall behind 0-2.
Standing in the third base coach’s box, Charles thought to himself, “Go ahead, throw her another change-up. She’ll load up and crush this thing.”
Jess Gomez threw the change-up. Drumm crushed it, and the Pioneers led 2-0 after two innings.
From the intentional walk to MacLaughlin, Baker retired 11 of the next 12, a spell broken only by an error on second baseman Daisy Frank.
“She was throwing an amazing game,” said Byler. “She was hitting her spots, (the) defense was backing her up.”
Frank more than made up for the error in the fifth inning after Baker hit Kate Douglass, leading off the inning, and Alex Douglass sacrificed her to second.
Kate Douglass kept going as Frank alertly threw to second, initiating a rundown in the shortstop area, with Baker ultimately making the putout.
Garber walked leading off the L-S fifth, eventually scoring on Baker’s single.
Courtesy runner Meghan Taggert scored all the way from first on Byler’s double to right-center.
“I watched a good pitch go by,” Byler said. “I just knew I had to get the bat on the ball. I wasn’t sure if (the right fielder) was going to track it down or not.”
All day, there was either dead calm or a howling wind blowing out to left.
In the top of the sixth, Paige Olson lifted Baker’s first pitch high into the air.
It rode the thermal over the fence in left-center for the first hit of the game.
Two outs later, Sam Gomez tested the jet stream and found it favorable as well, her homer landing in the same spot.
“It’s easy to say she (Baker) missed her spot when they pop one,” Charles allowed. “I’ll give them credit, whether they were wind-blown or not, they were hit hard.”
Taryn Hostetter’s two-out single kept the sixth inning alive and turned the lineup over for Garber, who doubled her home.
Baker got two quick outs in the seventh, a strikeout and groundout, and her defense had one last trick up its sleeve.
Jess Gomez hit a flare behind first that fell fair, then rolled foul.
Backing the play, Frank pounced on it and flipped it, quarterback option style, to Drumm for the final out.
“I saw the umpire (signal out) and I thought, ‘Oh, sweet!’ ” Charles said.
And speaking of sweet. “For us to get back there three times in four years,” Charles added, “that’s pretty sweet.”