Home runs help Thundering Herd softball earn a historic home playoff victory

The Thundering Herd dispatched the Bobcats with a 12-6 decision Monday in a District 3 Class 6A softball opener.

Tim Gross

The Carlisle softball team had posted just one playoff victory in the last 18 years heading into Monday’s Class 6A opener. The Thundering Herd ended a 15-year drought with a dramatic 8-7 first-round victory over Manheim Township in 2021, but lost the next game and were empty the following year. They missed the playoffs last spring as a 13th-place team in a field that sent 12 to the playoffs.

So the Catharsis in Carlisle was palpable Monday afternoon every time a Thundering Herd bat squared a pitch and sent it screaming into the spring air. There was relief every time Carlisle recorded a clean sheet against a spirited first-round foe at Northeastern. And given their history, a heightened sense of satisfaction hovered over the Herd as they celebrated a 12-6 victory in front of a raucous home crowd in what is believed to be the first home game in Carlisle softball history.

“I think we were just excited,” Carlisle head coach Laura Keim said. “We were so excited because we knew, and the girls knew, that it was a big deal for us to play this home game here. And I think they just came out hungry. They came out knowing we had to punch them in the mouth, and we certainly did that.”

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Summer Kunza provided the first big swing in a flurry of them for the No. 7 Thundering Herd (14-6-1). The freshman leadoff hitter threw Northeastern starter Brooke Shorts’ first pitch over the center field fence, giving Carlisle a 1-0 lead and drawing a roar from the crowd surrounding the field.

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“That’s the stuff movies are made of,” Keim said. “That’s the stuff storybooks are made of. So for her to do that first pitch as a freshman is incredible.”

It was far from the final note of Carlisle’s attacking overture. Molly Renninger added a two-run home run to left with two outs in the first inning, and Alexis Kline delivered a bases-loaded 1-0 pitch in the second inning. The Herd hit three home runs and stormed out to a 7-0 lead before Northeastern recorded their fifth of the afternoon. Mercy Smyser took over for Shorts and pitched the final 4 2/3 innings, but Carlisle maintained its offensive momentum, scoring in the third, fourth and sixth innings. Smyser allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits. She walked three.

Carlisle did not strikeout.

“I think one of our strengths is that we are (hitters) one through nine strong,” Keim said. “It’s not just one through four. It’s not just three, four, five. We’re going to get production from one through nine, whether that’s a walk or a bunt, or they’re going to hit the ball hard and get on base on an error. They are all capable of producing for this team, and I think that’s what makes us so successful.”

Alexis Kline, who pitched a complete game, hit a grand slam to help the Thundering Herd eliminate Northeastern 12-6.

Tim Gross

The No. 10 Bobcats (12-8) clawed back with a three-run homer in the third inning from Colleen Finnegan. Kline, who pitched a complete game, lost her command in the fourth, walking two and hitting a batter to load the bases. The Bobcats made it one run.

“We got punched in the mouth in the first two innings, but I have a team that really likes to play hard,” first-year Northeastern head coach Kayla Judge said. “They dug deep and tried to get it out. If things change a little bit and they don’t hit a grand slam with the bases loaded and we do, then I think there’s a different ending to the game.”

Instead, Kline held the Bobcats to two runs over the final three innings. She allowed a total of six runs (three earned) on six hits, while striking out seven and walking five. She struck out the strikeout to end the game, provided the punctuation on a historic day for the program and sent the Herd into Thursday’s quarterfinals, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. in Chambersburg, against the No. 2 Trojans, who played in the first got a bye in the round.

“I think she felt her command slipping a little bit,” Keim said of Kline. “She had to shift into the next gear and say, ‘I’m going to take back control,’ and she did. It was amazing.”

Tim Gross is the sports editor at The Sentinel and Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at: @ByTimGross