Just a few weeks ago, the Bellefonte High School softball team was struggling.
Near the .500 mark, the Lady Red Raiders began to show a flash of life in a loss to eventual District 9 Class AAAA champion DuBois.
Wins over Clearfield and Philipsburg-Osceola started the ball rolling and now the Lady Raiders seem to be playing their best ball of the season at the right time.
Bellefonte (13-8), fresh off the District 6 crown, faces District 7 champion Thomas Jefferson (15-6) at Baldwin High School at 4 p.m. Monday in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA Tournament.
The Lady Raiders have won four straight heading into the contest. They knocked off defending District 6 champion Hollidaysburg (3-2) and top-seeded Johnstown (7-2) in the postseason.
Catcher Vanessa Cooper said the team gained a big confidence boost from its 9-5 victory over Philipsburg-Osceola, which advanced to the PIAA semifinals last season.
“Ever since that, we’ve just been rolling,” the senior said. “We’re not beating easy teams. We’re beating high-class teams.”
Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said his team has responded late in the season and is happy to be getting a regular schedule of games in the playoffs.
“Now that we’re back in a rhythm here, I think that’s going to help us,” he said. “We’re getting solid pitching from all three kids (Tara Baney, Stevi Confer and Rachel Bernier) when we need them and good defense. We love our hitting the last six or seven weeks.”
Bellefonte pounded out 11 hits in its romp over Johnstown in the district final.
“No. 1-9, they’re tough,” Kohlhepp said. “They go up there and get they’re hacks and you see good at-bats and good approaches. They may not always get hits, but they can’t control that. They can control what they can control and that’s going after balls they want to hit and putting it somewhere where they’re not.”
Cooper, who is headed to Division I UMass-Lowell, said the reason for the recent surge has nothing to do with what’s happening between the white lines.
“We believe in each other,” Cooper said. “Faith is a big thing we have. … We have faith in each other for every single out, every single at-bat. That’s the difference.”
The Lady Raiders will face a team that’s had quite a postseason run. Thomas Jefferson, the No. 13 seed in the WPIAL Tournament, knocked off the first (Greensburg-Salem), fourth (Knoch) and fifth (Trinity) seeds on the way to winning the WPIAL title with a 5-3 triumph over Mars.
The Lady Jaguars had several close games in the WPIAL Tournament, winning 3-1, 3-2 and 4-3 before the title game.
Lacie Lautner has been key in the circle for Thomas Jefferson. Lautner is now 13-3 on the season.
Kayla Prickett is a dangerous hitter. She homered in a 4-3 win over defending champion Greensburg-Salem in the WPIAL semifinals and smashed a two-run homer and drove in three runs in the title game.
Bellefonte freshman Baney went the distance in the District 6 final, tossing a four-hitter against Johnstown.
“It’s amazing,” Baney said of making the PIAAs. “I feel like we’re going to go real far.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt