OLEAN - The Cinderella season continues for the Pine Valley Lady Panthers.
As Jessica Wilcox's RBI double drove in the game-winning run in the sixth inning, it was merely the season in a nutshell for the Lady Panthers as yet another bounce went their way to help capture the Class D Far West Regional championship with a 2-1 victory over Section 5's Andover on Tuesday.
With Nichole Rinehart on first, Wilcox hit a groundball between the shortstop and third baseman. With the left fielder playing up, the ball rolled into the outfield. But as the ball left the infield and entered the grass, it took a huge bounce and went over the left fielder's head and rolled all the way to the fence, allowing Rinehart to race home for the winning run.
"It's been crazy," Pine Valley coach Danielle Arnone said. "I feel like out of body right now."
While Wilcox provided the offense, she also provided the Lady Panthers with a pitching performance seen from a crafty upperclassman - not the freshman she is.
Wilcox fanned 11 and allowed just four hits and three walks.
"She is our secret weapon," Arnone said with a laugh. "She has been outstanding; honestly outstanding. She has improved immensely in the few games she has been with us. She is bringing more life to this team which is what we needed. She made big plays. She is so young. We are putting a lot of pressure on a freshman, so we were hoping the bats would come along better, but it worked out."
It was a rough start for Pine Valley as Andover quickly took a 1-0 lead. Following a leadoff walk to Amy Miller and an error that moved Miller to third, Amber Miedermaier roped a single to score Miller and take the 1-0 lead.
Despite the early deficit, Wilcox found her groove rather quickly as she struck out the side in the inning.
"We haven't been here for so long and we didn't know what to expect with all the emotions," Arnone said. "Once we got going, we felt we could handle this."
After the first inning, Wilcox and the Lady Panthers did not allow an Andover player to reach third base and benefited from some running miscues from the Section 5 champions.
While Andover struggled with Wilcox, Pine Valley had early problems of its own as Andover pitcher Greta Howland was equally affective. The eighth-grade hurler struck out seven. allowed four hits and did not issue a walk.
Arnone noted the strong pitching in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association helped her team prepare for competition at the next level.
"We faced some great competition and it didn't show in our league record," she said. "I think it prepared us. The pitching was phenomenal in our league. She was a great pitcher. As we have said all year long, no matter what pitcher we faced, we feel we have great bats and they will eventually come alive."
Pine Valley got the equalizer run in the third inning when Kayla Mansfield reached on an error, stole second, moved to third on a fielder's choice by Alex Bentham and scored on Howland's only wild pitch of the game.
"At this point, we realize how important every single run is," Arnone said. "When someone gets on base, we have to be focused to get that run in. It's so important."
With the win, the Lady Panthers are moving on to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four this weekend in Queensbury.
And as Arnone watched her team celebrate, she described this remarkable postseason run in one simple word.