UNIVERSITY PARK — Curt Heverly leaned against the fence in Beard Field and just shook his head at what had transpired minutes earlier.
“Unbelievable,” he said.
And if it wasn’t exactly unbelievable, it certainly pushed credibility to the limit when his Bald Eagle Area softball team rallied from a 4-0 deficit to overtake defending champion Philipsburg-Osceola and win the District 6 Class AA championship, 5-4 in eight innings.
In September, you could never have convinced him this was a remote possibility.
“Honestly, after our first day of fall practice I said to (assistant coach) Keith Bennett that maybe we should just resign right now,” he recalled, describing the program as being in total disarray. “ We had kids not coming to practice, they loafed, they wouldn’t run after balls, they couldn’t catch the ball. We were thinking they just didn’t care. It took me until October until I finally saw all of the girls who had played last year. They made no effort to meet the coach.
“At the start of this year, we had problems.”
Heverly and his staff solved enough of them to restore the Lady Eagle program to where it was for most of the last decade when it went to the PIAA title game four times and won two. It wasn’t necessarily a worst-to-first turnaround, more like middle of the pack to championship status.
And it did it in perhaps the most intense battle in the long-running Tong War with the Lady Mounties, who have won the last four district crowns.
With a overflow crowd of 1,100 jammed into Beard Field, the Lady Eagles showed the resilience that has carried them through the postseason where they have trailed by at least two runs in three of the four games.
“I think 99.9 percent of our games are like this,” said third baseman Marissa Tobias, who fielded Abby Showers’ grounder and made the throw to first for the final out of the game. “We got behind tonight, got a little flustered but then we started to relax and play as a team. After the first three innings we got more confidence. We started to feed off each other.”
A junior, Tobias recalled the state of the program when Heverly took over in the fall.
“Last year we had some cliques, some issues,” she said “We couldn’t catch the ball. But Curt came in and he brought us all together and said this is what we want to do. We set goals and this is where we wanted to be. This feels awesome. We worked so hard to be here.”
But none of the grueling practices, the intense drills, could match what they faced in the finals against a team that has been a lock to show up in the title game for years.
“They (P-O) won four straight district titles, six straight (Mountain) league titles, they have the winningest coach in the history of softball in the state, they have tradition, toughness, experience,” Heverly said of P-O. “And I was looking around when we took our girls to supper and I saw 14 freshmen and sophomores out of our 19 girls who were going to play in a tough venue like this.”
And it didn’t phase them. They barely blinked.
“I couldn’t think of anything but the next pitch,” admitted sophomore catcher Morgan Nyman. “This is so amazing when I think of all of the people who have been through here. It’s amazing to be a part of Bald Eagle softball.”
Amazing is not the word she might have used in September.
“We were sort of separated at the beginning,” she said. “But once we got on the field we worked together and once we started getting together something just clicked and we just rolled with it. We thought we could have a decent year but this is amazing.”
The victory is doubly sweet for Heverly, who was let go as a coach after winning a district title in 2003.
“That was the toughest day of my life, when they took it away from me,’’ he said, looking into the distance, his eyes moistening at the memory. “ I was sick about it. We were figuring we were going to win four state championships.
“Then, last summer when the job opened up, I thought maybe I’d try it again. And the kids have responded to me. Now they want me to do things, go on the senior class trip with them, things like that. To have this happen in one year is just an unbelievable story.”
And the ending has yet to be written.