Walt Moody: State softball title games have a happy home in Happy Valley

June 21, 2014 

PIAAsoftball25

Bald Eagle Area fans watch as the Lady Eagles receive their silver medals after losing to Central Columbia, 13-5 in the PIAA class AA softball championship game.

ABBY DREY — CDT file photo Buy Photo

It’s been a little more than a week now since the PIAA Softball Championships concluded at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Field.

Centre County fans, please stand up and give yourselves a standing ovation.

Thanks to you, this year’s PIAA playoffs will go down as something very special.

You made young ladies from Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola feel like rock stars and they rewarded you with some stellar play over the course of two weeks.

In the process, you made it difficult for the PIAA to consider ever playing the title games anywhere else.

To be fair you did have some help, especially in the finals. Big numbers in the seats also were brought in by Claysburg-Kimmel, another District 6 team; Minersville, now a nine-time Class A champion; and Souderton, the Class AAAA champ.

But it was the buzz surrounding the local teams that, as chef Emeril Lagasse would say, “kicked it up a notch.”

Centre County had been absent from the finals since Philipsburg-Osceola took home the 2011 title. P-O fans helped set an a Nittany Lion attendance record that has not been matched since that game.

Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola created a stir by playing three one-run games, including an eight-inning thriller in the District 6 final, before the PIAAs started. The start of that district final had to be delayed because so many fans were still purchasing tickets to get in.

BEA, before another huge crowd, won 2-1 in eight innings in the PIAA first round. When the Lady Eagles and Lady Mounties advanced to meet each other in the semifinals, the PIAA had no choice but to put the fourth matchup between the two teams back at Beard Field.

How excited were fans for that historic contest?

Jennifer James, a Penn State assistant athletic director who handles event management, said fans were buzzing the ticket booth at 10 a.m. trying to purchase tickets for the 5:30 p.m. start between P-O and and BEA. Fans began lining up well over an hour before the gates opened at 2 p.m.

Officially, ticket sales were halted at 1,350 for that game, though it certainly seemed like more folks were in the stands and there were more who watched from outside of the park.

And there were more than BEA and P-O faithful in the house. Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp and several of his players were on hand for the contest.

And in the finals, BEA fans began showing up well before the Lady Eagles’ 5:30 p.m. title tilt against Central Columbia. They had to be extolled to leave their seats when the stadium was evacuated for the threat of a lightning storm. And the 80-minute rain delay did little to cool off their passion.

The sheer volume actually created a problem as fans from the Class A title game were asked over the public address system to give up their seats to the incoming fans for the Class AA title game.

Having too many people attending is a good kind of problem.

While Central Columbia’s bats prevented a happy conclusion to a storybook season for BEA in a 13-5 final, it did little to dampen the spirits of Lady Eagle fans, who gave their team a standing ovation.

As usual, Penn State did an outstanding job as a host. The field was immaculate and all of the bells and whistles — like Samantha Leybman’s announcing and the music — made the atmosphere special.

Coupled with the baseball championships over at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park — a day in which nearly all of Martinsburg showed to watch Central play for the Class AA crown — and it’s hard to imagine a better setting for PIAA titles.

Bids were recently placed for future spring sports championships and Penn State did bid on softball, baseball and boys’ volleyball.

It’s hard to see them going anywhere else.

You could say the same for Bald Eagle Area, Philipsburg-Osceola and Central Columbia. The three Class AA semifinalists all return seven position starters for next season.

While history was made with the meeting between P-O and BEA in the semifinals, there may be a huge roadblock to two District 6 teams meeting again in the PIAA Tournament.

There is some concern among area coaches that District 6 could lose one of its two Class AA berths.

Here’s why:

Bellwood-Antis and Huntingdon requested and have moved up to Class AAA for the next two seasons.

Given the volume and quality of competition at Class AA, you can see why those schools would make the move. Just three teams were in the District 6 Class AAA Tournament, which was won be Bellefonte. The Lady Red Raiders have dominated that district class, winning all but two of the titles since the PIAA expanded to four classes in 2005.

The move by the two schools drops the total number of softball teams to 19 in District 6. Whether that’s enough to keep two spots in the state bracket when the PIAA does the math remains to be seen.

It would be a shame for District 6 to lose a berth, especially given the strength of the teams. BEA and P-O have advanced to PIAA title games eight times since 2004, winning four crowns.

Back a week

As a reminder, the annual Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association All-Star game is slated for 7 p.m. on Thursday at Nittany Lion Softball Park. Rain pushed the clash between District 6 and District 4 all-stars back a week. A total of 14 Centre County players are on the 27-player District 6 roster. At 6 p.m., District 6 will induct four into its Hall of Fame.

Food for thought

For years, we have implored the Penn State softball program to take a good hard look at some of the talent in this state, instead of recruiting out west.

The new regime under coach Amanda Lehotak has made itself a presence at games in the area and has contacted coaches. That’s a good move.

If she needs an example of how some District 6 standouts can play at that level, Lehotak saw it up close and personal on her schedule this season.

Anyone who saw Ligonier Valley’s Maddy Grimm knew she could have played in Happy Valley. The four-sport star in high school eventually chose Kent State over Penn State and said the Golden Flash offered her a better financial package than the Nittany Lions.

All Grimm did in her freshman season was start 45 games and hit .288. She led Kent State with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs.

To put her power numbers in perspective, the entire Penn State team hit 13 home runs for the season. And by the way, one of those blasts came in Kent State’s 9-1 triumph over Penn State.

Also this season, former Bald Eagle Area standout Taylor Parsons belted a two-run homer as Saint Francis topped the Nittany Lions 4-2.

At the PIAA Championships, a player that stood out among Pennsylvania’s finest was Minersville’s Adrienne Kroznuskie. The freshman — I repeat freshman — hit .585 with 55 hits, nine home runs and 37 RBIs for the Class A champions. She also was 14 for 14 in stolen bases. Minersville coach Dave Homa said after the game that Kroznuskie is “probably the greatest player I’ve ever coached.”

Homa also said the Kroznuskie would like to play for Penn State.

Walt Moody is the sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt

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