It was said that in the late 1970s, early '80s, center field at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium was where hits went to die, patrolled as it was by the Phillies’ eight-time Gold Glove winner, Garry Maddox.
In the endless expanse of Solanco's varsity softball field, center field is where hits run home.
Their hopes for Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff berths extinguished by losses Tuesday, Manheim Township and Solanco gathered in Quarryville Wednesday afternoon. Both teams hoped to keep alive, or improve, their respective position in the District Three power ratings.
The Blue Streaks, who have bounced between the No. 5 and No. 6 positions in Class 6A's 12-team bracket, were coming off a 2-0 loss to Section One champion Warwick. The Golden Mules, whose late-season three game skid dropped them to 11th in the 16-team race in Class 5A, were coming off a 11-0 loss to Section One runner-up Penn Manor.
You wouldn't know it though, as they went after each other as if first place was on the line.
In a game where the Streaks (10-6 league, 13-6 overall) had leads of 1-0, 3-1, 5-4, and 7-4, and the Mules (8-7, 8-7) led 4-3 and 11-7, Solanco withstood one last Township rally in the seventh inning to claim an 11-10 win.
"We work well as a team," Mules senior catcher Jade Eshelman said. "Last year was a tough year because we didn't get to play, but this year we pulled it together.
"We knew today we had a chance and we were going to do everything that we could to win this game," she added. "And that's what we did."
Township tested the depths of center field with Delaney Smith's two-run homer, Maddie Rinier's two-run double and Megan Marks' triple. The Mules countered with Kendall Janssen's solo homer. "That just got us all up and excited for one another," said Eshelman, who added a two-run circumnavigation of the bases as part of a three-run fourth inning for the Mules.
For the Mules’ lone senior, a classroom standout and acknowledged team leader as well as multi-sport athlete, it was her fifth home run of the year and 19th of her career.
"It's Jade's night," said Mules coach Brett Miller, his appreciation having a double meaning as Eshelman completed the Mules’ traditional “Senior Walk” around the bases. "It's been an unbelievable ride. She's a tremendous player, an absolute true leader."
Township broke on top on Smith's RBI single in the first inning. Solanco countered with Janssen's homer in the third before the Streaks regained the advantage in a two-run fourth, courtesy of a pair of errors.
Undaunted, Solanco broke back as Becc Foulk (3-for-4) scored on Eshelman's homer and Taryn Britigan knocked in courtesy runner Emma Kreider, running for winning pitcher Marlee Haupt (3-for-3).
The Streaks regained service on the homer from Smith (3-for-4) and extended their lead on Rinier's hit in the sixth.
Solanco sent 12 batters to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, scoring seven runs — one earned — on four hits, three walks and three errors, taking an 11-7 lead.
That should've been enough. It nearly wasn't.
Taylor Kittleman and Delaney Smith reached with no outs, both scoring on a single from Annika Smith (3-for-4). Marks reached on a one-out error before Olivia Yoder's single drove in Annika Smith. With courtesy runner Riley Dormer on third and Yoder on second, Anna Sexton came on in relief of Haupt. She threw two pitches to Carissa Lusk, the second lined by Lusk to center.
Janssen had it all the way and doubled up Dormer, who had bolted for home, at third to end the game.
With three freshmen and a sophomore making their debuts, and four juniors two years removed from their last varsity competition, the Mules have had their moments.
"They're knowledgeable of the game," Miller said, "it's just now … it happens a lot faster. The last play of the game, as opposed to looking around for the play, they were alert enough to know that's the play."