UNIVERSITY PARK — Hollidaysburg softball coach Dennis Cooper looks at Bellefonte and sees where he wants his program to be.
It took a big step in that direction at Nittany Lion Softball Park on Wednesday, when the Lady Tigers shut out the Lady Raiders 2-0 to win the District 6 Class AAA championship.
Bellefonte was shooting for its 13th title in 14 years while the Lady Tigers last won in 2006 when they were playing at the Class AAAA level.
“I’ve said for years that there is a difference between a team and a program,” Carter said, his championship gold medal hanging from his neck. “We’re trying to develop a program. That’s what Bellefonte has and what we’re trying to develop.
“It feels outstanding to be able to win this in my first year and that’s a credit to the kids and my assistant coaches. I’m grateful to them. And we have outstanding senior leadership. The talent has always been here and it’s a credit to them that they put it all together this year.”
They did it, in spite of being seeded fourth in the bracket and in spite of all of those doubters who considered Hollidaysburg an automatic win on the schedule.
“This means everything,” said shortstop Hannah Mercer, one of those seniors. “The last two years we’ve won four games combined and a lot of people doubted us. But that’s OK since we’d only won four games the last two years.
“But we knew coming into this season that we had something special that we hadn’t had in past years. We knew our play would speak. This was the best ball we’ve played and this is our fifth win in a row. It’s just awesome.”
Sophomore pitcher Alyssa Pheasant also came up big for the Lady Tigers, holding Bellefonte to five hits while walking two and striking out two.
“I was just throwing my pitches and had a great defense behind me,” she said. “This means everything because so many people doubted us. We have a good team but nobody realizes it. I’m just glad we accomplished this so far. Going farther into states will be even better.”
Bellefonte threatened Pheasant when Sarah Menna and Carly Chambers opened the second inning with singles. But Pheasant induced a pair of pop-ups and a comebacker to get out of trouble.
In the third, Stevie Confer wasn’t as fortunate as Hollidaysburg bunched four hits around an error to score both of its runs.
With one out, Kathleen Sheehan, the No.9 hitter, crushed a 2-0 pitch that one-hopped the wall in left. A perfect relay kept her at first. Pheasant followed with a slow roller to third that she beat out. One out later, Krista Shay singled into the hole at deep short to score Sheehan and Mercer beat out a roller to short to plate another run.
“They put the ball in play and we were a step slow,” said Bellefonte coach Greg Kohlhepp. “And Pheasant is a heck of a pitcher. Give her credit, she kept us off balance and I think we have a good hitting lineup.
“And we knew they have a good hitting lineup. But if you had told me beforehand that we’d hold them to two runs, with our pitching and our defense, I’d have been pretty happy.”
Vanessa Cooper opened the inning with a line drive into the right-center gap that rolled to the fence.
Kohlhepp waved her around second and she was cut down at third on a relay that saw Mercer take the throw and fire a strike to get Cooper by several feet. One out later, Erica DeVinney and Menna had consecutive singles before Pheasant got Chambers on a hot comebacker to the circle.
“Vanessa has better speed than people think,” Kohlhepp said of the decision. “And with the way they had the cutoff arranged I thought we were OK. But when the throw got to Mercer I knew we were in trouble. She was able to throw a strike to third and get Vanessa.”
Bellefonte finished the season 11-11 and loses DeVinney, Jess McClenahan and Abby Irwin.
“We had a sophomore (Stevie Confer) on the mound and we have a big junior class,” Kohlhepp said. “We’re looking to get back here next year. We’re a young team and this game was important to us, getting the playoff experience.”