There were no tears in Avery Cymbor’s eyes when she walked off the softball field for the last time Wednesday.
Sure, the State College senior watched her team fall 8-2 against McDowell in the PIAA Class 6A subregional. And, sure, she doesn’t plan on continuing her athletic career next year at Clemson. But Cymbor said she still couldn’t have asked for much more in her final softball season.
“We didn’t go out like we wanted to, but I like to focus on the positives — and we won the District 6 title,” she said from the batting cages at Nittany Lion Softball Park. “And no one ever thought we’d do that.”
The Lady Little Lions entered the district softball tournament as the last seed. They shut out No. 2-seed Altoona and then stunned top-seed Mifflin County to end a six-year district title drought and earn the right to play McDowell.
Wednesday’s game was filled with mistakes — including two errors and several other missteps — but most of this young team followed Cymbor’s lead. There were no red faces and few frowns when the team gathered in right field after the loss. Because, by any measure, the season was still a success.
“Go back and try to think of teams that have played as many underclassmen and got this far,” coach Jim Schaper said. “And I can’t. I can’t think of any.”
State College, which boasts just three starting seniors on its young team, showed its inexperience on Wednesay. With two outs in the first frame, the Trojans’ Erika Enzbrenner smacked a lazy fly that appeared to be heading foul before dropping on the line, right where the infield dirt meets the outfield turf. By the time the ump ruled the ball fair, one base-runner was already preparing to round third — before scoring the game’s first run. Back-to-back singles from there led to an early 2-0 deficit for the Lady Little Lions.
“We weren’t expecting those first two runs,” said sophomore Addie Wasikonis, who had two hits. “And we weren’t making plays we usually make.”
In the next inning, State College’s center fielder appeared to lose the ball in the sun, as another run scored. One play later, the batter who reached on an error scored from third on a wild pitch. The Lady Little Lions suddenly found themselves in a 4-0 hole after two innings, and the miscues didn’t let up there.
“Props to the other team,” Cymbor said. “We still got down on ourselves; we should’ve been able to pick ourselves up.”
Both Cymbor and Wasikonis said this wasn’t how they wanted to finish the season. This wasn’t the kind of performance they envisioned. But, at the same time, this was still a dream season for the group.
So, as they walked off the field, their eyes didn’t well up with tears. Instead, they remembered how nervous the freshmen were in those first few games — “Like a deer in headlights,” Schaper had said — and how much they had grown. Instead of looking back on a 14-1 loss to Mifflin County in April, they were able to reminisce on May’s 6-3 victory against that same team.
And, most importantly of all, they knew they still had those District 6 medals waiting back home.
“No one ever thought we’d do that,” Cymbor added. “That was one of our biggest goals, so I think that outweighs all the bad games we played. I just have to remember that; there’s no greater feeling than being a District 6 champion.”
First baseman Kayla Hawbaker, third baseman Andrea Kling and backup Saede Eifrig won’t return for State College next season either. But “pity” wasn’t a word these Lady Little Lions focused on; “potential” was. With a solid core of returning underclassmen, this team is essentially set up for at least the next two seasons.
And that wasn’t lost on the Lady Little Lions.
“These underclassmen have been playing together for a long time, and they’re really good,” Cymbor said. “They have the potential to make it really far.”
Said Schaper: “This is the season that no one expected. There’s a bright future here.”