Some of the greatest matchups in boxing history have come in threes.
Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield and Mickey Ward-Arturo Gatti are just a couple of the epic trilogies.
Three clashes between the Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osecola softball teams would suffice most seasons, but now comes Round 4.
The two District 6 Class AA heavyweights will rumble for the fourth time this season as the two square off at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the PIAA Class AA semifinals at Nittany Lion Softball Park. On the undercard at 3 p.m. is a matchup between Central Columbia and Susquenita, the other two Class AA semifinalists.
“I think these teams are two heavyweights,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “I had a college coach tell me that the District 6 championship two weeks ago was the state championship. He said if you two play again, that will be the second state championship. I don’t know about that, but it kind of makes me feel good.”
In three battles so far, one point on the scorecard separates the two teams. P-O won 3-2 and BEA triumphed 4-3 during the regular season before the Lady Eagles rallied for a 5-4, eight-inning win in the district final before 1,100 at Beard Field.
“All three games have been amazing games,” Philipsburg-Osceola left fielder Tiffani Wagner said. “I honestly don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited.”
Like any good boxing match, this one has two distinctive styles.
The Lady Mounties (21-5) have been the puncher. Their offense has been racking up ridiculous numbers throughout the District 6 and PIAA playoffs. P-O is averaging more than 10 runs a game overall and 14 runs per game in knocking off previously unbeaten Moniteau (19-6) and Beaver (9-6).
“I can’t even tell you why that has happened other than the kids have worked hard with their hitting,” P-O coach Jim Gonder explained.
The Lady Mounties agree that the practice work has led to the PIAA onslaught.
“We’ve been working really hard and it’s been paying off,” said first baseman Kenzie Burge, who was 4-for-4 against Beaver. “We beat two teams with a combined record of 37-0. It goes to show if you work hard that anything’s possible.”
“We’re the type of team when one person hits, everybody hits,” added shortstop Abby Showers. “And when one person makes a play, everybody makes a play. Everyone has to contribute.”
BEA (21-4) has fought to wins on counter-punching and defense. The Lady Eagles, behind pitcher Makennah Dyke, have allowed just two runs on seven hits in PIAA wins over Seton LaSalle (2-1) and Wilmington (4-1). The Lady Eagles did not make an error against Wilmington.
Nine different batters had hits in the triumph over Wilmington. Freshman Olivia Andrews and sophomore Morgan Nyman are among several of the younger players who have contributed key hits.
“It’s crazy being one of the youngest on the team, but when you step on the field you feel like an equal,” said Andrews. “You don’t feel like the baby.”
Dyke knows that she’ll face her stiffest test of the PIAA Tournament against P-O.
“They have a tough lineup,” said the senior right-hander (16-3). “They hit No. 1 through No. 9, so I have to work hard No. 1 through No. 9. I never have a batter that I can just throw fastballs to. I always have to work hard.”
Dyke is the only pitcher to hold the Lady Mounties under eight runs in the postseason.
“She’s a great pitcher,” P-O cleanup hitter Haylee Hayward said. “We know that when we go out there.”
“She hits her spots,” Gonder said of Dyke. “She’s a crafty pitcher. She hits her spots, mixes her pitches up. It’s tough to go up every at-bat and expect something to be thrown.”
Gonder said that he probably won’t pick his starter until Monday, but based on the way the postseason has gone so far it’s a good bet he’ll use freshman Maggie Peck a good deal. Peck came on at the end of the District 6 title game. While she hasn’t started a PIAA game, she’s thrown the majority of innings in relief of Chelsey Henry.
Peck has seemed unflappable so far.
“She looks very veteran out there in the way she handles herself on the field,” Gonder said. “She seems to be able to control her emotions and she’s very composed. She’s a very intelligent kid and thoughtful.”
“I knew how to cope with the fans and the pressures,” said Peck. “Pitching is the same. It’s just another position. You have to go out there and try your best whenever you get thrown into it.”
As a youngster, Peck watched P-O win a state crown.
“I can’t even believe that I’m the one playing now,” she said. “I remember seeing all of these older girls and looking up to them as role models. Now I’m a role model to maybe some other girls and that’s cool to think about.”
Heverly says his team has to put some runs on the board against whoever Gonder throws.
“What we’ve got to do is hit with them,” Heverly said. “They’re a good hitting team. They crush it some days. We’ve been able to maintain that throughout our games with them so far. We kept them like a normal team, but nobody else does.”
Gonder is pointing to three things. “We have to have contributions from everyone in our lineup,” he said. “Defensively, we have to make the routine plays and our pitchers have to get ahead in the count.”
The two bitter rivals actually have a common bond. Lady Eagle catcher Morgan Nyman and shortstop Haley Giedroc play for the Philipsburg Hurricanes, coached by the Lady Mountie catcher Haley Frank’s father.
“Off the field, we’re friends,” Frank said. “When we’re playing, we can be friendly, but we know no matter what we want to beat each other and still be very humble.”
“It’s like weird, but at the same time you’re friends with them,” Nyman said. “You can’t see them as a friend on the field. You have to see them as another person you have to beat no matter what.”
Neither team is surprised to see each other for the fourth time.
“We knew they were going to work their way so they could see us again,” BEA third baseman Marissa Tobias said. “We worked our way, too. We kind of knew it from the beginning.”
And it promises to be another wild one with a packed house of raucous fans.
“It’s going to an awesome atmosphere,” Showers said. “Playing at Penn State, semifinal game against a big rival, it can’t get any better than that.”
“There are only four teams left,” added teammate Hayward. “This is where we need to capitalize. We need to play our best and I think at the end of the season we do play our best ball.”
For the Centre County softball fans, this could be the equivalent of the “Thrilla in Manila.”
“We’re rivals. We’re even teams,” Andrews said. “We both hit. We both play amazing defense. We’ve got to come out harder and get one run more. That’s going to be the difference, like it has been in our last three games.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt.