Constantino Lifts Clarion to D9 Softball Title Game for First Time Since 2016
(Photo of Clarion’s Jordan Best between second and third on her way to an inside-the-park home run in the sixth innings for Clarion Friday. Photo by Kim Constantino)
The Clarion junior pitcher struck out 14 more batters Friday evening in a 5-1 win over A-C Valley in the District 9 Class 1A semifinals at Clarion-Limestone to lift the Lady Cats to the District 9 title game, where it will face DuBois Central Catholic Wednesday, May 29, at Heindl Field in DuBois (time TBA).
Constantino has 30 strikeouts in two playoff games and has struck out 111 batters in her last 61 innings of work since April 29. She gave up her first earned run – in the seventh inning – since May 6 and has given up just three runs, one earned, in her last 35 innings of work.
“I was looking at the book before this game,” Clarion manager Dan Shofestall said. “We had five games, four were shutouts and one was two unearned runs. She is pitching as well as we have seen here. She is pitching well. She works very hard at it. She has gotten tougher as a junior this year.”
Constantino’s battery mate, freshman catcher Jordan Best, said it has been a blast to catch Kait this season.
“It’s so much fun,” Best said. “I have loved it since the first game. She throws so many different pitches. She is the best pitcher I have ever caught for.”
Shofestall said Best deserves some credit for Constantino’s performance as well.
“You think about Kaitlyn, 200 or whatever strikeouts,” Shofestall said. “A lot of it goes to the catcher, how she sets up, calls a game back there. For a freshman, she has done a terrific job for us. It’s not easy catching a pitcher who throws like that. But she has done great.”
According to Best, Constantino’s rise ball is devastating right now, and that was on display when she struck out eight of the first nine A-C Valley batters she faced Friday.
“She loves that pitch,” Best said. “I love that pitch. It has worked the whole season.”
Watch all of Best’s postgame interview.
While Constantino was keeping A-C Valley’s bats silent – the Lady Falcons had just two hits through the first six innings before picking up three in the seventh when they scored their run – Clarion’s offense was once again getting production from the bottom of the lineup, something that is becoming a trend for the Lady Cats.
The game’s first run was a perfect example when freshman Noel Anthony, the No. 8 hitter, poked a bloop single to right with two outs in the second and scored on a double to right-center field by sophomore Ava Kiser, the No. 9 hitter.
“Right now, they have a good attitude going in there,” Shofestall said. “They are swinging at good pitches, doing a better job of recognizing what the strike zone is. I think that has really helped Ava and Noel down there.”
Clarion got another RBI from a bottom-of-the-order hitter during a two-run fifth inning when No. 7 batter, Lindsey Kemmer, came through with an RBI single to make it 3-0.
Kemmer was the third straight Lady Cat batter to reach base in the fifth, as Tori Vega, who was 3-for-4 in the game with a run scored, led off the inning with the first of two doubles for her and scored when Payton Simko’s fly ball to center fell in for a two-base error when A-C Valley centerfielder Meah Ielase and right fielder Sydnie Schmidt collided.
Best then put away any real doubt to who the winner was going to be in the sixth when she legged out an inside-the-park home run to deep right field that also scored her older sister, Carly Best, who had walked with one out.
“I wasn’t thinking I was getting an inside (the park),” Jordan Best said. “It was a very big relief because I’ve been struggling. It’s just nice to know I still have it in me.”
Shofestall said he wasn’t surprised to see his cleanup hitter come through.
“She keeps working at it,” Shofestall said. “She has been hitting well in practice, and we know it is going to come. When she squares up on that ball, it goes. There is no doubt about it. That is the big thing, keeping her over the plate. But she is a freshman, too. She has done very well for us.”
A-C Valley finally found its offense, although too late, in the seventh when Cami McNany, who was 3-for-3 with a double, led off with an infield single and ended up moving to second. Ielase then singled McNany home with a hit to right field. An out later, Kelsie Terwilliger singled to right and went to second on the throw to third giving the Lady Falcons runners at second and third. But Constantino got Brogan Armagost to fly out to Simko in center to end the game.
Clarion will now take on the DCC juggernaut that has won two of the last three D9 titles, including a 2-1 win over Clarion in 2016 while making the PIAA playoffs the last three years. While the Lady Cardinals are the fifth seed that is only because they were made to forfeit nine games for using an ineligible player – paperwork wasn’t file – at the start of the year. On the field, DCC has won all 22 games it has played including a 22-8 win over Otto-Eldred in the other semifinal contest, a game that saw the Lady Cards record 32 hits.
“We know what we are going up against,” Shofestall, whose team was beaten 22-2 in a scrimmage back in March by DCC, said. “They are a fabulous team. We scrimmaged them in March on a cold day, and they show us a lot. They showed us we had a lot of work to do. We have a lot of respect for DCC and what they do. We are going to have to play hard, play good ball and believe we can do it. That’s it. We aren’t going up there just to go up. We are going up to play our best. I like this team. I like it very much. So, we will see what happens.”
A-C Valley’s season isn’t done, and the Lady Falcons will become big Clarion fans. That’s because under District 9’s “true second” format this season, A-C Valley will play Otto-Eldred in the consolation game, also Wednesday at Heindl Field in DuBois. If A-C Valley wins that game and Clarion beats DCC for the D9 title, then A-C Valley would play DCC for second place with the winner of that game going to the PIAA playoffs. Likewise, if Otto-Eldred would win the consolation game and DCC would win the title, then Otto-Eldred and Clarion would play off for second place. But if the team that wins the consolation game already played the team that finishes second, then there will be no “true second-place game” and the runner-up will get the second PIAA playoff spot.
“I think we move on from this,” A-C Valley manager Bob Bowser said. “I think we faced the best pitcher, not just in the league, but in D9 and the whole schmiel. Now we focus on Otto-Eldred and root for Clarion to win Wednesday vs. DCC. I hope they knock them off.”
A-C VALLEY UPSET WITH DISTRICT 9
While Clarion was obviously happy to be moving into the title game, Bowser and his fellow coaches were very unhappy at the District 9 Committee for postponing the Clarion game from Thursday until Friday.
The decision to postpone the game was made Thursday morning after a severe thunderstorm watch was issued for the area, but by noon the threat of that storm had passed, and according to multiple people familiar with the situation, the field at C-L was in playable shape.
Bowser and his coaches were seen in a heated discussion with District 9 committeeman Randy Cathcart, the game manager, after the game telling Cathcart there was no reason the game should have been postponed as early as it was Thursday – Cathcart did not make that decision nor have any say in it as the decision to postpone was made by District 9 softball chairman Pete Grecco, the athletic director at Brockway, after consultation with others on the softball committee as well as administrators at least some of the schools involved. All three District 9 softball games slated for Thursday were moved to Friday.
The reason for A-C Valley’s anger was the fact that two of the Falcons’ starters – pitcher Baylee Blauser and first baseman Kylee Eaton – both qualified for the PIAA Track & Field Championships that started Friday and were continuing Saturday.
“I think D9 definitely dropped the ball on it,” Bowser said. “We had a PIAA event (Friday). They called the game at 10, 10:35 (a.m., Thursday). Radar cleared out at a quarter to 11. A quarter after 11, clear skies. They said they cancelled everything. They did not cancel everything. Moniteau/Karns City (baseball) played at (Michelle Krill Field) Pullman (Park in Butler). No matter what. Not saying we would have won or lost the game, but it would have been nice to have a full slate of team to be here.”
Blauser’s event, the long jump, was contested starting at around Noon Friday, while Eaton’s even, the shot put, wasn’t to be contested until Saturday morning.
Blauser actually took eighth in the long jump and rushed back to Clarion County arriving at the field about 15 minutes prior to game time, or about 5:45 p.m. She pitched well allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits and six walks while striking out five.
To accommodate A-C Valley, District 9 did set the game time for 6 p.m. – it otherwise would have been played at 3:30 p.m. – to give Blauser a chance to return – it was assumed Eaton could be at the game since she wasn’t throwing until Saturday. But Bowser said that still wasn’t the same as if the game had been played Thursday.
“Our pitcher rode in a car for four hours to get here at three minutes til,” Bowser said. “Thank God the lines crew messed up the batter’s box to give her an extra 10 minutes to loosen up and warm up and get out of jet lag.
“She pitched well. But a little bit of fatigue. Ride in a car for four hours and see what you feel like.”
Eaton, however, chose not to participate in the softball game and instead went to the state track meet Thursday night. Without her being available, Bowser had to shuffle his defense.
“In all honesty, it affected us quite a bit,” Bowser said. “We changed pretty much our first baseman, our third baseman, our left fielder, our right fielder, our second baseman. Take it for that. We had five girls out of position.”
Bowser said while he was disappointed Eaton couldn’t be at the game, he didn’t think it was fair that she was put in a position where she had to choose one sport or the other.
“I don’t think us as a committee or us as parents or adults, we shouldn’t put it on the kid to make the decision,” Bowser said. “She qualified for a PIAA event, and she should go to that. She is (throwing) tomorrow. Could she have been here? Yeah, but she would have been the same jet lag that Baylee faced because she had to register at 8 o’clock in the morning. Four-hour ride, get out of here 8 o’clock (Friday), so you are getting there at 1 in the morning when everything is said and done. So, no, that wouldn’t have been fair to her on the track aspect.”
While Bowser was upset that he didn’t have a full complement of players, he wasn’t taking credit away from Clarion.
“It (not having everyone) didn’t have a bearing on it,” Bowser said. “Kait is a great pitcher.”
CLARION 5, A-C VALLEY 1
Score by Innings
A-C Valley 000 000 1 – 1
Clarion 010 022 x – 5
A-C VALLEY – 1
Emily Wetzel ss 3000, Baylee Blauser p 3000, Cami McNany c 3130, Andrea Meals 1b 3000, Meah Ielase 3011, Sydnie Schmidt rf 3000, Kelsie Terwilliger 3b 3010, Brogan Armagost 3000, Myia Page 2b 2000. Totals 26-1-5-1.
CLARION – 5
Kait Constantino p 3010, Carly Best 2n 2100, Brenna Campbell ss 2000, Jordan Best c 4112, Tori Vega 3b 4130, Payton Simko cf 4100, Lindsey Kemmer 1b 3011, Noel Anthony rf 2110, Ava Kiser lf 2011. Totals 26-5-8-4.
LOB: A-C Valley 4. Clarion 10. Errors: A-C Valley 1. Clarion 0. 2B: McNany. Vega (2), Constantino, Kiser. HR: Best (Inside-the-Park). SAC: Kiser. SB: Constantino.
Baylee Blauser 6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 5 K
Kait Constantino 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 14 K
Winning pitcher: Constantino
Losing pitcher: Blauser
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