Penns Valley’s Don Lucas says he hates it.
Bald Eagle Area’s Curt Heverly isn’t really fond of it, either.
What’s bothering both coaches heading into Thursday’s opening round of the District 6 Class AA softball playoffs?
Their teams are playing each other.
No. 13 Penns Valley (7-9) travels to No. 4 Bald Eagle Area (15-4) for a 4 p.m. clash, while five-time defending champion and second-seeded Philipsburg-Osceola (16-4) hosts No. 15 Central Cambria (7-8).
The Lady Eagles and the Lady Rams have met twice already this season with BEA prevailing 10-0 and 6-3.
That’s no consolation to Heverly, whose team is looking for its first district title and PIAA playoff berth in six seasons.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” he said. “I’ve got to keep these girls focused because we can go and have three of four innings of mediocre play and give up three runs and get nipped 3-2.”
“I don’t think anybody likes to play the same team three times,” Lucas agreed.
At least one player on both sides disagrees with coaches. BEA pitcher Makennah Dyke, who tossed a six-hitter in Monday’s big 4-3 win over P-O, doesn’t mind facing a team that has seen her a couple of times already.
“I like playing people that we’ve seen before because we kind of know how to work them a little better,” Dyke said.
Certainly, Penns Valley is a little different from the team the Eagles rolled over 10-0 in their first meeting of the season. Lucas’ young squad got off to a rough start, but has played better in the stretch run.
“We were 0-6 to start the season and in our last 10 games we’ve won seven,” said Lucas, who led the Lady Rams to a PIAA Class A title in 2001. “We have definitely improved. We’ve played better against the tougher teams that kind of handled us at the beginning of the season.
“Right now, I like the way we’re playing. We’re getting some pretty steady pitching (from Emma Kubalak and Harley Hess). … We’re playing some pretty good defense and we’re getting some pretty steady hitting up and down our lineup.”
Lucas said his team’s attitude helped it persevere through the early stretch.
“When we were 0-6, they never really got down on themselves,” he said. “We kept telling them, ‘We’re not 0-6. That’s what the record is, but we’re a lot better than that. If you make the routine plays and mix in a couple of great plays, you’re going to win a lot of ballgames.’ That’s what we’ve done.”
Heverly certainly noticed a difference in the Lady Rams in the second matchup.
“Donnie does a great job with them,” Heverly said. “They are much improved. They’re here to beat us.”
Lucas knows taking out the Mountain League champs is a tall order. Dyke has thrown well and BEA has been getting key hits throughout its lineup. Cleanup hitter Logan Fischer has homered in her last two games and Central chose to walk her multiple times on Tuesday.
“They’re solid No. 1 through No. 9 like they have been for a long time,” Lucas said. “They have steady pitching and their outfield has made some great plays against us.”
Heverly likes the way his team has been playing.
“Now, we’re starting to play our best ball,” Heverly said after Monday’s triumph against PO. “Today was a real big win for us. You don’t come up here and win often, do you?”
Dyke says the team has blossomed.
“Since the beginning of the season, it’s a whole different team,” said Dyke, one of the two seniors on the BEA roster. “We work together better as a team right now. We’ve strung hits together better. We make the plays that we need much better than we did at the beginning of the season.”
Dyke will face an improving Penns Valley lineup, led by shortstop Ashley Struble. The Lady Ram senior batted .543 with six homers.
“She just is a great team leader,” Lucas said of his leadoff hitter. “She’s one of those gals that you need to have on your team. We go as she goes. Luckily, the last 10 games she has just been lighting people up. She’s just a great young lady. I’m happy she plays for me.”
Despite the disparity in seedings, both teams expect a tight game.
“Area is so tough,” Lucas said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league. We have to bring our ‘A’ game and see what happens.”
“It’s going to be another tough game I think,” Dyke said. “If we keep our heads in it, we’ll do fine.”
Central Cambria at Philipsburg-Osceola
Philipsburg-Osceola, a PIAA semifinalist last season, heads into District 6 action in unfamiliar territory, having lost its last two regular season games against BEA (4-3) and Bellefonte (9-5). The Lady Mounties combined for 10 errors in those two losses.
That’s uncharacteristic for the program, which has made a habit during Jim Gonder’s tenure of playing its best during the postseason.
“Obviously, we have some things that we need to work on and get better at,” Gonder said. “The No. 2 seed is a good seed. We’re seeded away from Bald Eagle and that’s a nice seed. I’m sure they’re happy and we’re happy.”
While the Lady Mounties have struggled defensively since All-State shortstop Abby Showers has been sidelined, they still pack pop at the plate.
Kenzie Burge is swinging the hottest bat with a .583 average and Haley Frank is hitting a robust .536. Haylee Hayward is bringing the power with a .431 average and 15 extra-base hits, including four homers. Freshman Maggie Peck (.356) leads the squad with 25 RBIs. Showers also returned to the batting order this week.
That’s bad news for a Central Cambria squad that has given up double-digit runs in six of its losses this season.
The Lady Red Devils, paced senior Chelsey Long, have won most of their games thanks to their hitting. They’ve scored in double digits seven times this season.
Morgan Ostinowsky likely will start in the circle for the Central Cambria, which has won two straight entering the postseason.
If his team advances, Gonder could see a familiar opponent on Monday. His squad split two games with Central this season, with both games decided by late rallies. The No. 7 Lady Dragons play No. 10 Mount Union.
“The down side is that we get past Central Cambria on Thursday, we could get to play a Central team that’s been hitting us pretty well this year,” Gonder said. “We’ve got to figure some things out with their hitters.”
Gonder said the quest to win six straight District crowns won’t be easy.
“There are some good teams,” he said. “You’ve got a team out there like Penn Cambia that’s 18-0. I have not seen them play and I guess they have a pretty good pitcher. Marion Center, it looks like they’re pretty solid. Central can beat you. Bald Eagle, Penns Valley, P-O, you never count those teams out. There’s a lot of teams out there that have potential to win, but there’s three or four that are legit contenders, though.”
What makes the tournament intriguing is the absence of a dominant pitcher.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there that says they have a pitcher who’s going to get 15 strikeouts in a game,” Gonder said. “At least I’ve not seen it yet in District 6.”