Aisha Goss broke to her right and launched herself in a dive toward the left field line.
The Philipsburg-Osceola outfielder skidded across the grass, but came up clutching the object of her desire — a softball that had been belted by a Deer Lakes hitter.
Goss’ catch was one of several outstanding defensive plays as the Lady Mounties advanced to the semifinals of the PIAA Class AA softball tournament with a 3-1 triumph over Deer Lakes at Bedford High School. P-O (23-1) will face District 7 champion Riverside (21-0) at 4 p.m. Monday at Brockway High School for a berth in the PIAA finals.
Buoyed by strong defense and a three-run first inning, Kate Burge tossed a four-hitter as she outdueled Deer Lakes’ Tiffany Edwards, who also allowed just four hits.
Burge (20-0) admitted she wasn’t quite as sharp as she was in her three-hitter against Chartiers-Houston in the opening round of the PIAAs on Monday. But Burge was backed by errorless defense. Every P-O fielder recorded either a putout or an assist in the contest.
“They were awesome,” said Burge, who walked two and struck out five, of her fielders. “I can’t ask for anything better than that.”
P-O coach Jim Gonder was especially pleased with his outfielders, who all made fine catches during the contest.
Each started the season in different positions. Goss, started in right then moved to left field. Megan Bainey moved from left to center field and Haley Frank moved from center to right field.
“We’ve put a lot of time since March 4 in developing our outfield,” Gonder said. “We had some kids in different positions and new kids out there. They’re really have started to improve. Hard work paid off.”
Goss’ catch, which prevented at least a double by Deer Lakes’ Maureen Hutchinson, was her sixth diving grab of the season.
“I saw it coming in as a line drive and then it started to drop,” Goss said. “I knew if I took the bounce on it that I wasn’t sure if I’d get to it, so I decided to dive to catch it. ... I’ve put a lot of work in. That’s one thing I work on the most is my defensive skills. I haven’t really worked on my diving catches. It just sort of happens.”
“As a pitcher, you see a ball hit and you don’t know where it’s going until you turn around,” Kate Burge said. “Once I turned around and saw her lay out, I was like, ‘Yes! She got it.’”
Goss, a senior, said she and her fellow outfielders know how important it is that they play well, especially at the most important time of the season.
“We take a lot of pride in it since we are the last defensive line out there,” she said. “ Any play could be the most key play we have.”
A diving catch that was just missed by Lancers center fielder Hutchinson in the first inning turned out to be a huge play.
Carly Gonder opened the contest by drawing a walk from Edwards and moved to second on Frank’s sacrifice. McKenzie Burge then followed with a liner to left-center field. Playing shallow, Hutchinson had no choice but to dive to try to cut the ball off, but just missed.
The ball rolled all of the way to the fence, allowing Gonder to scored and Burge to steam around to third with an RBI triple. An Edwards wild pitch allowed Burge to dive into the plate to make it 2-0.
“I fell behind to an 0-2 count but somehow I managed to pull it off,” McKenzie Burge said of her triple.
The Lady Mounties weren’t done in the inning. Abby Showers walked and raced around to score as Kate Burge doubled in the left-center gap to make it 3-0.
“It was the game,” Jim Gonder said of the three-run outburst. “When you lose the coin toss, there’s always that, ‘Ooh, I wish we were the home team.’ The approach we told the kids is. ‘We have the first opportunity to score.’ And, they did.”
“It kick-started us and got our energy up,” McKenzie Burge said. “That was the first time we had been the visitors in the playoffs (District 6 and PIAA). It was nice to get a jumpstart.”
The Lady Mounties got some defense from the bench in the bottom of the inning that preserved the lead.
Kate Burge started shaky, as an infield hit and two walks loaded the bases with one out. Hannah Blinn then hit an apparent sacrifice fly to left field. But the P-O bench appealed, saying courtesy runner Maria Taliani left second base early and the umpires agreed.
“I let a couple of things get to me,” Kate Burge admitted of the rough start.” I had to make sure I blew them off. I was doing if for my team. It was realizing where I was and if I mess up at any point that they can win because they’re a very good team. I knew I had to get sharper as the innings went by.
When I go into the dugout when we were hitting, I was taking deep breaths and thinking, ‘Kate, yo have to do this for your team. You can’t let them down.’”
Backed by the defense, she did not.
Deer Lakes did get on the board in the third. Becca Babincak smacked a one-out triple and trotted home on Katie Gozzard’s single.
But from there, Burge and her fielders were outstanding. Kate Burge retired 14 of the last 15 batters she faced.
“We put a lot of work into our defense,” McKenzie Burge said. “Our outfield, they go through like boot camp everyday at practice and so does the infield. We really focus on our defense a lot at practice.”
The Lady Mounties needed that fine play because they did relatively nothing with Edwards after the first. Edwards allowed just two hits after the initial inning. On P-O’s only scoring chance, Alyssa Shedlock was cut down at the plate in the fifth inning after Frank lined out to right.
Edwards walked two and struck out four.
“She was very crafty,” Jim Gonder said. “She worked the outside part of the plate and she changed speeds, a lot of different speeds. She was probably one of the best pitchers I’ve seen from that perspective as far as being able to change speeds. Her curveball had different speeds. Her fastball had different speeds. She had a changeup. She was difficult.”