ALLENTOWN - Early on, Pleasant Valley's bid for a first-ever District 11 Class AAAA championship seemed completely out of sight.
It was never out of mind, however.
Despite an early seven-run deficit in Thursday's championship game, the Bears' never lost their vision of district gold.
"Coming off the field after their big [six-run second] inning, our group of seniors made sure that everyone knew the game wasn't over," said Pleasant Valley coach Steve Caffrey. "They talked about battling back and that's exactly what we did."
After a furious Bear rally eventually tied the game, Easton regained the lead in the top of the seventh inning and held on for a 9-8 victory.
The Red Rovers will face Neshaminy, District I No. 3 seed, in the First Round of the PIAA playoffs on Monday.
"My compliments to Pleasant Valley. They were down 7-0 and came back," Easton coach Ed McIntrye said. "They started most of their rallies with two outs.
"It was awfully hard for us to get the third out from the middle to the end of the game."
The Rovers were able to get that final out in the bottom of the seventh, but not before another two-out uprising by Pleasant Valley made things interesting.
After Easton relief pitcher Sierra Stout retired the first two Bears, Hayli Marini drew a walk and Felicia Domenici beat out an infield single to put the tying and wining runs on base. Leadoff batter Kasey meckes drilled a hard grounder in the hole but shortstop Sara Rasley had her played perfectly and made the play, flipping the ball to third base for a game-ending force out.
"I really thought we had an opportunity to win it (in the bottom of the seventh inning)," said Caffrey, whose Bears scored all eight of their runs with two outs. "I thought we were going to do it again with two outs again, but it didn't work out that way.
"Kasey is the batter I would want up in that situation, but Easton had us scouted very well. Kasey hits a lot of balls that way and they had her played perfectly. She hit it hard, but Rasley was right there."
It was a tough way for the Bears to lose after battling back the entire game.
After falling behind 7-0, anyone could have thought that Pleasant Valley appeared to be in for a long night.
With two outs in the third, the Bears staged the first of three spectacular "two-out" rallies.
Diane Klapatch started the rally with an RBI single, Rachel Sisco added a two-run double, and an error produced another run..
The very next inning, the Bears cut the deficit to 7-6. A pair of Red Rover miscues set the stage for a two-run single by Nikki Kregeloh.
After the Red Rovers went back up by two in the fifth inning, Kregeloh drilled an RBI-double and Klapatch followed with a RBI-single to tie the game 8-8 after six innings.
"We all worked as a team to chip away at that deficit," said Kregeloh, who finished 3-for-4 with two singles, a double, two runs scored and three RBIs. "When I came up to bat, and we were still down, I knew I just had to get a hit and I was able to that."
After Stout led the seventh off with a double, Easton leadoff hitter Audra Heilman, who happens to be the program's all time hits leader, stepped up and lined an RBI single to centerfield for what proved to be the winning run.
The comeback effort may have failed in the end for the Mountain Valley Conference champions, but Caffrey was simply proud to see his team fight to the finish.
"They didn't give up," Caffrey said. "They had a lot of heart out there and that's what we asked of them. We wanted them to just come out and play with a lot of heart and that's what they did tonight."
Easton 160 010 1 - 9 10 5
Pleasant Vy. 004 202 0 - 8 11 4
Dalrymple, Stout (3) and Mitch, Limeberry (2), Mitch (5); Correll, Marini (2) and Klingel. W - Stout. L - Marini.