BROCKWAY, Pa. — Emily Dauberman stared Jess Gmerek straight in the eyes, and couldn't believe what she saw.
At a point where the pressure was probably the highest in her young Bellefonte career, Gmerek couldn't help but do it.
"She was laughing," Dauberman said. "That told me that she obviously felt pretty good right there."
Wrong. Gmerek felt great.
And the young sophomore had a moment she'll likely never forget.
She took a deep breath and ripped through Kaitlyn Kutchman's offering, driving the ball to the gap in right-center field for a bases-clearing double. The three-run lead was plenty for Dauberman and her defense as Bellefonte dominated Montour, 3-0,in the PIAA Class AAA state semifinals.
Bellefonte (23-3) advances to Friday's state championship at Shippensburg University to face off with local rival Jersey Shore, which eliminated Palisades at King's College in Wilkes-Barre. It also completed a Lady Raider sweep of the WPIAL in the state playoffs, beating Ambridge (5-4) and Yough (1-0) prior to Monday. Montour was the conference champion.
Dauberman tossed a two-hitter with three strikeouts, while the Bellefonte defense hasn't allowed a run in the last 16 innings.
"We practice our defense and we always work hard at it," first baseman Erica Pooler said. "And the results have been showing lately. Christina (Stathes) had a lot of balls hit her way, and she handled them like she always does. She had a wonderful game. It's about stepping up in big situations."
Gmerek knew. This was her one shining moment. Yes, she wanted to capture it in the worst way. It didn't matter that in her previous at-bat she had grounded out to third.
"I shake things off. If you let things go to your head, nothing good is going to come out of that," she said. "It feels good to deliver this time. It was all about driving the ball, and we work on it at practice all the time. That's all you can really do."
Bellefonte had the tables set up beautifully in the fourth. Stathes ripped the second of her three hits right back through the heart of Montour's defense. Dauberman followed with a five-pitch walk, and an error by the Spartans third baseman on a hot shot by Pooler loaded the bases with only one out.
Montour looked to have pulled a Houdini magic trick on a fielder's choice by Hannah Cooper where Paige Deley cleanly scooped up the ball and tossed it home to catcher Nicole Pajek for the force with plenty of time to turn an inning-ending double play.
But no throw was ever made to first.
"The catcher just crossed her feet up and she couldn't make the play," Montour manager Bill Wills said. "That would have got us out of the inning. Plus, we had an error at third and that kept it going for them. Kaitlyn has pitched out of a lot of jams this year, and it wasn't to be today."
It was for Gmerek.
She ripped it to the green, and even the wet grass couldn't stop it from rolling deep into the gap. Dauberman, Pooler and courtesy runner Jessica Walizer — running for Cooper — all scored, and Gmerek found herself standing on second base with the Bellefonte faithful erupting at Brockway High School.
"She always seems to do a great job of hitting her pitch hard," Bellefonte manager Gregg Kohlhepp said. "And the idea that it's a pressure situation makes it challenging. She's only a sophomore, and she wasn't in the lineup at the beginning of districts. We just wanted her to find her pitch and drive through the ball. She really came through in the clutch."
A three-run lead was all Dauberman and a stingy Bellefonte defense would need. Working her favorite pitch, a changeup, to perfection, and taking advantage of a low strike zone, Dauberman forced 13 groundouts — seven of those to third base.
Montour (19-7) only threatened to score in one inning, the fourth. Marina Scarantino was issued a free pass, and Deley smoked a ball past shortstop Erica DeVinney — putting two on and one out.
No sweat for the Lady Raiders, as Dauberman induced a pop-up to centerfielder Danielle Gomola for the second out, and finished the inning herself with a called strike three.
"We scouted them, and we figured that we would throw a lot of changeups. That's my favorite pitch, so it's all good," Dauberman said. "I love my defense. I don't get nervous anymore because I have them. I am not afraid to throw anything because my defense is like a brick wall."
Montour's remaining hit came in the second on a blooper to shallow right field by Allison Hryadil.
"Honestly, we couldn't get to her and we couldn't figure her out," Wills said of Dauberman. "We had a hard time getting a read on her. We just couldn't do that. She is not overpowering, but she pitches with finesse and always hits her spots. She kept us off-balance.
"From top to bottom, I am impressed with the way that they hit. I didn't see them put a lot of bunts down because they don't have to. They actually got the bat on the ball. There has only been two other teams that have hit us as well as this team. Other than those two, I haven't seen a team hit the ball as well as Bellefonte."