WYALUSING — It’s not often NTL championships come down to one play but on Thursday evening it felt like it did for Wyalusing.
The Rams were nursing a two-run lead with two outs in the top of the seventh with two runners on when Wellsboro’s Sydney Tremper hit a fly ball to deep centerfield.
Some thought it was gone but nobody thought a Wyalusing player would be able to catch it.
Nobody except Wyalusing centerfielder Kristie Epler.
The senior made a running, back handed grab just before the wall for the final out, giving Wyalusing a 3-1 win and the NTL Division-I title.
“I was like, ‘oh crap...how am I going to catch this,’” Epler explained. “But I just had to calm down and make that catch.”
“Kristie Epler certainly was a shining star here today,” added Wyalusing coach John Loomis. “That was probably the best catch I’ve seen here in 17 years. It was just remarkable. It was a remarkable game saving play in a championship game. The kid just has a lot of poise and no fear. It was an unbelievable catch, I just held my breath.”
If it dropped, the hit would have tied it up with Tremper on at least second, possibly third, with the heart of Wellsboro’s order up.
Instead, the Rams celebrated their first league title in nine years in the outfield, Loomis included.
“It was great because this is my first NTL championship,” Epler said. “We all pitched in and just getting that catch really sealed the deal and it felt great.”
Hailey Jayne continued her strong play in the circle, outdueling Wellsboro’s Cathryn Brought for the win. She struck out four while allowing no walks, seven hits and one run.
“I thought the two best pitchers (in the league) went at it and Hailey came out on top,” Loomis said. “Hailey Jayne is a gamer.”
Brought allowed just five hits and one walk in the loss while striking out four.
“I thought it was a terrific team effort but I felt Jayne made her pitch for hopefully pitcher of the year,” continued Loomis. “I think she’s earned it. Wellsboro is a very good team, well coached. I thought it was a great game. Give the kids a lot of credit because they played hard.”
Jayne was quick to credit to her teammates for the solid defense behind her.
“I love my team,” she said. “Kristie made a great catch, everybody played great.”
Loomis also pointed out play from Melody Kneller, Madalyn Valoroso and Sarah Bird.
Kneller had the big hit in the bottom of the sixth to break the seal and put the Rams up 2-1 as Epler and Bird came in to score.
“As soon as I hit it I was like ‘yes, finally we can breathe,’” remarked Kneller. “I knew that once we got into a rhythm we would start hitting.”
Epler led off the sixth with an error, then after an out Bird reached on a single. Jayne drew a walk to load the bases for Kneller who came through with the big hit.
Valoroso then squeezed in Jayne to give them some breathing room.
Bird and Kneller both went 2-for-3 on the day while Epler had the other hit.
The Hornets scored their run in the top of the first as Tremper reached on a fielder’s choice, reached second on a fielder’s choice then was hit in by Chelsie English.
In the sixth Jena Boyce led off with a single. After an out was made Alyssa Yungwirth came in to pinch hit and reached on an error.
A line-out to second base by Ryann Adams nearly ended the game as Wyalusing looked to have Boyce doubled off at second base but the throw was bobbled, giving the Hornets new life.
That was followed by Epler’s heroic catch, which took her a while to realize how big it really was.
“I guess when everybody was running out to meet me out there,” she said.
Boyce was 2-for-3 to lead the Hornets while Adams, Tremper, English, Heidi Zuchowski and Kailee Clymer also had hits.
Wyalusing has one more league game left against Sayre today but after Wellsboro’s loss they have a two-game lead in the loss column to secure the title.
If the Hornets won, the two teams would have ended up tied, which meant either a shared title or one decided by tie-breaker rules.
But Wyalusing made sure it was decided on the field.
And for the Rams it has been a long time coming.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting for it my whole entire career,” Kneller said. “It feels amazing.”