What did we learn from Wednesday's Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One softball nail-biter? We learned that Hempfield can take a punch. And deliver one.
Penn Manor can too.
The Comets (1-0 league, 2-0 overall) landed the early blows, and a big one late, to claim a 6-5 victory Wednesday at Manor Middle School.
Penn Manor banged out 11 hits, and hit the ball hard in seven of their 18 outs. Seven of those hits were for extra bases, including Emily Riggs' game-winning solo home run in the fifth inning.
"It was right after they scored those four runs," the junior second baseman said. "I knew I had to come up and, honestly, there was so much energy in the dugout, I caught all that energy and took it out on the ball."
Riggs' line shot over the right-field fence capped a 3-for-3 day, adding to a pair of doubles. Her RBI two-bagger in the first inning was part of a seven-hit bat-around that produced a 4-0 Comets lead.
Making just her third varsity appearance in the circle, after a scrimmage and a nonleague loss to Exeter, Hempfield junior Courtney Guthrie needed 32 pitches to navigate the inning.
Sophia Rineer doubled to start the Penn Manor first, coming around to score on a pair of wild pitches. Audrey Patterson singled, stole second and scored on Tori Hook's single.
Riggs doubled in Hook, but was out trying to stretch it to a triple. With two out Kaelin Gable singled, Bella Peters doubled and Bria Booth beat out a ball to short, scoring Gable with the fourth run.
"I was glad to see us come out so fast," Comets coach Dave Stokes said. "Regardless of where you're at as a program, it's very rare there's any blowout wins (in Section One)."
"I think we came out a little nervous in that first inning," Black Knights coach Terry Shreiner said. "But I think we settled down and proved we can play with them."
The Knights (0-1, 0-2) put a run on the board in the third inning as Kate Bemesderfer singled home Evan Sherrick. But Manor got that back on Peters' RBI double in the bottom of the inning.
Undeterred, Hempfield broke back even the next inning. Olivia Cover singled with one out, Guthrie worked a walk — Peters fourth to that point —and Avery Landis doubled them home. Peters got the second out and could see her way home as she got two quick strikes on Elizabeth Williams.
Williams had other ideas, pulling a single past third and into left to score Landis.
"That was a huge hit right there, to get that momentum back," Shreiner said.
Carley Ernst kept the momentum and tied the game with an RBI double deep to left field.
By then Guthrie had found her groove, having retired 10 of 12 prior to Riggs' shot.
If Peters momentarily lost her groove, she found it anew retiring the Knights in order in the fifth and sixth on 11 total pitches.
"I thought she showed a lot of character today," Stokes said. "She really struggled through four, then came out and dialed it in."
But she walked Williams leading off the seventh and Stokes didn't hesitate to go to the bullpen, and to senior left-hander Aralyn Hoffert.
For Hoffert, it was her first career varsity appearance after a four-year wait. Patience was its own reward as Hoffert set the Black Knights down 1-2-3 for her first career save.
"You wait four years to get your first varsity inning and you're asked to come in with a runner on first and no outs in a section rivalry game?" said Stokes, who called the effort "Tremendous.”
"She really deserves a lot of credit for the hard work she put in," he continued. "Coming out, not letting the game be too big, just doing that simple thing of pitch-and-catch."