By all standards, it was a normal day off in Centre County.
I woke up a little later than normal. I hustled out to cut the grass before some afternoon thunder-boomers rolled through. I even managed a couple of honey-dos before grilling some burgers for dinner and watching a little television (I loveSwamp People) before bedtime.
But, this Thursday afternoon off was anything but normal. In fact, it was about as abnormal as any Ive had in the last 11 years.
For that decade-plus, Ive always been busy on the second day of play in the PIAA Softball Championships. Centre Countys five softball programs have ensured that since I first began covering the sport here in 2002 that Ive had a scheduled appointment in the second round of the PIAA Tournament future meetings down the road.
But when Philipsburg-Osceola and Bellefonte both lost heartbreakers last Tuesday in the tournaments opening round, that remarkable string was snapped.
While most areas feel fortunate to get a team to the state finals, Centre County has made a home there.
Since 2002, four of the countys schools Penns Valley (2002), Bald Eagle Area (2005, 2009), Philipsburg-Osceola (2007, 2011) and Bellefonte (2010) have won titles in their respective divisions. Bellefonte (2002), BEA (2004, 2008) and P-O (2010) also have finished second in the state.
Think about those numbers. Since 2002, there have been just three seasons (2003, 2006 and now 2012) where a Centre County team hasnt been playing for a state title.
Incredible. You could see the handwriting on the wall before this season that local teams were vulnerable. They had taken some big graduation hits. If you keep up with our Campus Corner feature on Tuesdays, youve seen the kind of impact several of these players are making collegiately.
That left some sizable holes in the circle, in the field and at the plate in area lineups. Area coaches did commendable jobs bringing relative rookies up to speed quickly.
But at the PIAA level, mistakes are magnified and it was a couple of errors that cost Philipsburg- Osceola and Bellefonte. The Lady Mounties gave of four unearned runs in a 5-3 loss in eight innings to Neshannock in Class AA. Bellefonte missed a couple of scoring chances and lost 1-0 on an unearned run to Big Spring in Class AAA.
While those tough losses brought an end to an outstanding PIAA streak, you cant call this season a total loss.
Bellefonte and Philipsburg-Osceola won District 6 titles. Bald Eagle Areas unbelievable seven-run rally in the seventh knocked out top-seeded Ligonier Valley
7-6 and 15th-seeded Penns Valley blasted No. 2 Richland in the District 6 Class AA tourney. State College, without one starter from the previous season, nearly upset top-seeded Mifflin County in the District 6 Class AAAA tourney.
Maybe the best testament to the local talent is that the teams that beat them are still playing.
Both Philipsburg-Osceola and Bellefonte actually got bad draws in the PIAAs. Neshannock (District 7) and Big Spring (District 3) were both the top seeds in their respective district tournaments and suffered upset losses in the semifinals. Luckily for each, those districts send three teams to the PIAAs.
Neshannock and Big Spring, neither of which has advanced this far in the state tournament, followed up their wins Tuesday with one-run quarterfinal triumphs.
Neshannock (22-1), one of the more athletic teams in the state, faces Central (19-6), which finished second to Philipsburg-Osceola in the District 6 tournament, in todays Class AA semifinals at St. Francis (2 p.m.). Central, another great story, had not advanced past the second round of the District 6 tournament before this season and is the final District 6 team alive in the states.
Big Spring (22-4), a strong defensive squad, faces WPIAL champion Montour (20-5) in the Class AAA semifinals at St. Francis at 4 p.m.
The semifinalists are all looking to advance to Fridays PIAA finals at Penn States Nittany Lion Softball Park. The PIAA finals action will kick off with the Class A title game at 10 a.m. Class AAA (12:30 p.m.), Class AA (3 p.m.) and Class AAAA (5 p.m.) will follow.
Looking to next season, Centre Countys teams are bringing back the bulk of their rosters and you can bet theyll be hungry to get back into the PIAA title mix.
I would be wise not to plan for having another Thursday in early June off.
Walt Moody is the sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt