Sometimes the best moments in sports are ones that happen off the field.
The scorebook is thrown aside and the players play for something bigger than the sport. Monday's softball game between Messiah College and Hagerstown Community College is an example.
HCC dedicated its 3-0 victory to 16-year-old Thomas Johnson High softball player Natalie McMaster, who is battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) for the second time. ALL is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells and is the most common childhood cancer.
HCC head coach Jenna Knable is McMaster's hitting coach and helped arrange the event.
"Not being able to go to school is a big challenge I face and not being able to be with my friends as much and all the hospital visits," McMaster said. "We have to drive an hour to the hospital every time so it is definitely a lot of back and forth going twice a week but we stay positive and we get through it."
The game featured McMaster throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in addition to T-shirt sales.
The Hawks wore orange ribbons and special jerseys that read: "HCC Softball Strikes Out All with Natalie." A red, white and blue quilt was raffled, and McMaster's ticket was the winner.
After the game the Hawks presented McMaster a $1,360.25 check signed "Your Hawks family" to help cover travel and medical costs.
"When I brought up the idea to the girls, each one texted back in 30 seconds and said 'Yes, let's do it!' Our goal was to sell 70 shirts and we sold 97," Knable said. "I told them early in the game 'I didn't care if we win or lose today. What we're doing here is much bigger than softball.'"
In the game, Emily Talbert gave the "Strike Out All" on the jersey new meaning. After twirling a five-inning shutout against Chesapeake on Sunday, Talbert's dominance in the circle carried over.
The Williamsport graduate fired seven more shutout innings — extending her scoreless streak to 23 — while scattering four hits and fanning 12.
Talbert made her presence at the plate known early as well. With Maddy McDonough (Clear Spring) on third after ripping a lead off triple to right, Talbert lifted a fly ball to right field for a two-out double plating McDonough.
For the next 3 1/2 innings, pitching dominated. Talbert set the Falcons down in order with a pair of strikeouts in the second, then stranded a walk in the third with another strikeout.
In the top of the fourth, Talbert stranded another walk with a double play on a bunt attempt, catching the popup and fired to second baseman Victoria Oliver (Spring Mills) covering first base for the third out.
Talbert carried a no-hitter into the top of the fifth. Messiah reached the hit column with a hard-hit Madelyn Yannetti leadoff single to center, then loaded the bases on back-to-back bunt singles. Talbert pitched her way out of the jam by inducing a popout and getting a swinging strikeout to keep the 1-0 lead intact.
In the bottom half of the frame, the Hawks padded the lead. Payton Smith (Boonsboro) laced a one-out triple to center. Following a hit batter and a groundout, Madi Renn (Williamsport) hit a ground ball to third. The ball was misplayed allowing Smith to score, making it 2-0.
HCC (26-7) added one more insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Kaitlin Wolfe (South Hagerstown) led off the frame with a four-pitch walk and was replaced by pinch runner Ashley Bachtell (Williamsport). Oliver bunted and reached on an error, then Cierra Beaver (Williamsport) hit a hard ground ball up the middle for an RBI single making it 3-0.
Talbert quickly put away the Falcons with a flyout, a strikeout, and a diving catch by McDonough at shortstop to end the game.
"This wasn't a conference game but it was nice to know we came out with the win for Natalie," Talbert said. "That was kind of the point of today. We were able to raise a good bit of money to help. Every little bit helps."
As McMaster bravely battles ALL again, she will carry the support of HCC softball with her.
"It's all really just exciting to see how many people care and support me," McMaster said. "It was just a really cool experience."