Not long after getting a District 6 championship medal hung around her neck, Philipsburg-Osceola shortstop Abby Showers was already thinking about practice.
Her coach Jim Gonder was kicking himself over a couple of decisions he made a couple of innings before winning his fourth straight district crown.
It’s not that Showers or Gonder weren’t ecstatic about winning another title.
It’s just that the 8-7 triumph over Ligonier Valley left some room for improvement heading into the Lady Mounties’ PIAA Class AA Tournament opener against highly-regarded Chartiers-Houston at 7 p.m. Monday at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
That contest will anchor a slate the features three other games involving District 6 champions. Hollidaysburg (11-9) faces District 7 runner-up Ambridge in the Class AAA opener at 12:30 p.m. Claysburg-Kimmel (19-3) tackles Burgettstown, the third-place team from the WPIAL, in Class AAA at 2:30 p.m. and Mifflin County (16-5) faces Cumberland Valley, the third-place team from District 3, in a Class AAAA clash at 5 p.m.
Philipsburg-Osceola pounded 12 hits and rallied from a 5-2 deficit against Ligonier Valley last Wednesday, but the Lady Rams were within a hit of trying the game in the seventh. The Lady Mounties (20-1) uncharacteristically committed three errors which led directly to four runs.
“We need to go to practice a little bit and fix what we did wrong today,” said Showers, who had three hits, including two triples, and three RBIs. “We strive to get better and give it everything we have.”
Gonder was kicking himself for a steal of third base that failed and for not attempting a squeeze play early in the game.
“There were a couple of strategy things from my perspective that I didn’t do well,” he said. “There were two mistakes that I kicked myself in the butt. That, ‘Ah, geez, I cost myself there.’
“As a coach you always like to give your team the best opportunity to win. I thought of couple of mistakes I made from that perspective. I was out-thinking myself.”
The willingness to address the little things maybe explains a little bit about the Lady Mounties’ postseason success. They’ve won two state crowns and been to another title game since 2007.
“They’ve bought into what we do,” Gonder said. “They’re good listeners. They work hard at practice.
“I say it every day, ‘Let’s get better today.’ From the very first practice to yesterday at 6 p.m., ‘Let’s get better today.’”
P-O will have to be at its best against its first-round opponent Chartiers-Houston (19-1), a former Class A power which has moved up to Class AA.
The scenario is eerily familiar for the Lady Mounties to last season. They faced Neshannock, a previously unbeaten team that was upset in the WPIAL semifinals by the eventual champ. Neshannock edged P-O 5-3 in eight innings in the opening round and went on to win the state title.
Chartiers-Houston was unbeaten until falling 4-0 to eventual champ Riverside in the WPIAL semifinals last week. The Lady Buccaneers bounced back to edge Beaver 2-0 in the third place game.
The Lady Buccaneers field a lineup that packs a punch. Megan Kraushaar (.481), Kayla Briggs (.462), Haley Sutton (.400), Casey Craig (.358) and Piper McLaughlin (.352) are all hitting better than .350. Sutton has three homers and 25 RBIs and Craig has four homers and 20 RBIs.
Starting pitcher Toni Spossey bounced back from the semifinal loss to throw a two-hitter with seven strikeouts against Beaver.
Spossey may be facing a team that’s breaking out of a bit of a postseason slump. The Lady Mounties were hitting under .250 in three postseason games before smacking 12 hits against Ligonier Valley.
“Prior to that we were clubbing it,” Gonder said. “I don’t know what the difference was.”
Showers (.565), Haley Frank (.431), Mackenzie Burge (.405) and Megan Bainey (.400) are all hitting above the .400 mark. After a tough start to the season, Carly Gonder has surged to .353.
Led by Showers’ five, eight Lady Mountie starters have homered this season.
Kate Burge (18-0) will be looking to bounce back from her toughest start of the season. She had allowed just 18 runs this year prior to Wednesday’s district final.
“We need to keep spotting the pitches a little bit better,” Gonder said of his ace. “She knows that.”
While some say his team may have gotten a better draw if it had finished second in the district (Ligonier Valley gets District 5 champ Chestnut Ridge), Gonder says bring on the toughest opponent.
“At some point, you’re going to play whoever you’re going to play,” he said. “To me, give me the best team in the state tomorrow. Play them, then the road gets easier. Whether it’s now or two games or three games, it doesn’t affect us.”
And the Lady Mounties get to play another game a Beard Field, a venue that’s becoming a home away from home over recent seasons.
“With all your fans there, it’s pretty rowdy,” Showers said of the atmosphere at Penn State. “But if you really love the game, you should block everything out and just play ball.”