Last softball season was one for the history books in Class AA.
Never before had two Centre County teams advanced past the district level. And never before had each team met again in the state tournament.
Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola did just that, battling in four epic games that culminated with a PIAA semifinal clash won by the Lady Eagles 7-3 BEA finished as the state runner-up.
Those two teams could be right back at it again as each lost just two starters from those Final Four teams.
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Penns Valley, which came on strong at the end of the season, will be looking to rebuild from a big graduation hit.
New head coach Fred Caldwell takes over a Bellefonte program that has won district titles in 15 of the past 17 seasons.
And Mike Harper begins his second season looking to get State College back to district title contention.
Bald Eagle Area returns the bulk of a lineup that met Central Columbia for the title last season.
The big graduation loss is pitcher Makennah Dyke, who pulled off the rare feat of beating Philipsburg-Osceola three times in one season. Moreta Dyke and Sydney Schultz are looking favorites to go to the circle. The Lady Eagles also lost center fielder Megan Peters.
“We have to replace a very talented pitcher in Makennah Dyke and also a very solid center fielder in Megan Peters,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “But most importantly, we must replace their leadership qualities.”
The Lady Eagles return an outstanding infield with Marissa Tobias at third, Haley Giedroc at shortstop and Mikala Smith at second. All three are slick fielders. Giedroc and Smith have speed.
Moreta Dyke and Schultz split time at first base. Catcher Morgan Nyman, who calls all of the pitches, is back behind the plate. Olivia Andrews (left) and Logan Fischer (right) are returning outfield starters and designated hitter Makenzie Proctor swung one of the team’s biggest bats last season.
The Lady Eagles had production throughout the entire lineup as they made their postseason run.
“We are a very young team this year which gained some valuable experience last year throughout the season,” Heverly said. “We have been improving with each practice and are looking forward to getting outside to work on all aspects of the game.”
Philipsburg-Osceola also returns nearly all of a dangerous lineup that belted 13 home runs and racked up 401 total bases.
First baseman McKenzie Burge, a St. Francis recruit, led the hit parade with a .573 average, the second best mark in program history. Third baseman Haylee Hayward set program marks with 76 total bases and 43 runs scored. Second baseman Maggie Peck knocked in 32 runs in her freshman season.
The big hole in the lineup is replacing catcher Haley Frank, who set a program record with 48 hits last season. Newcomer Courtney Watson and Hayward can play the position.
Chelsey Henry, who swings a powerful bat, and Peck return as pitchers. Shortstop Abby Showers, who had offseason shoulder surgery, is an excellent fielder and dangerous hitter with power. Annie Kost can play second base, play the outfield and pitch.
Megan Bainey returns in center field. Henry, McKendz Kephart and Shawna Lumadue also can play the outfield.
“This year’s team is very talented and has been working very hard in preparation for this season,” veteran coach Jim Gonder said. “Our team goal remains the same: get better every day and peak at the end of our season.”
Penns Valley lost five senior starters, including shortstop Ashley Struble who hit a school record .553 with six home runs last season.
The Lady Rams, who rebounded from an 0-6 start last season, do have experienced arms with Abby Thoms, Emma Kubala and Harley Hess returning.
Several of the returning position players will be in new positions. Mikenna Lyons moves from the outfield to shortstop. Liz Brooks will head from first base to third.
Kayleigh Jones, Cassidy Brown, Mikaela Royer and Makayla Dreibelbis have experience in the outfield and are being pushed by younger players. Cassidy Stover will be behind the plate and Reba Smith will serve as the designated hitter. Paige Myers, Alicia Houser and Jordan Houtz are scrapping at second base. Paige Kerstetter and Abby Martin are possible starters.
“With such a young team and with moving players from last year into new positions, we will be work in progress,” coach Don Lucas said. “I fully expect us to go through growing pains at the start of the season, but saying that I also expect the team to grow into a very competitive team by the season’s end. The energy of this team has been outstanding. There has been a lot of teaching and their willingness to learn has been refreshing.”
Lucas, whose program has always been aggressive on the basepaths, will take chances this season. “The great thing about this team is we have some speed,” he said. “We have three or four gals who can really move around the bases. This will give us options we have not had in awhile.”
Bellefonte begins the season with Caldwell at the helm. The former Lady Red Raider assistant made history at Penn State-Altoona, a program he turned into a consistent winner by recruiting many of his players from Centre County.
He returns the bulk of a squad that won another district crown.
The Lady Raiders are especially loaded in the circle. Tara Baney, Rachael Bernier and Stevi Confer all were successful last season and former Penns Valley player Kylee Wasson also shows promise.
The biggest hole in the lineup is at catcher where Vanessa Cooper was stationed for three years before moving to Division I UMass-Lowell. Jenna Ault will take over there.
Another new addition to the lineup will be freshman Alexis Wetzler at shortstop.
The roster has several veterans. Angela Capparelle returns in center field and Liz Linn is in right. Sarah Menna played at first last season, while Confer also played in the infield.
“There is a very good core of returning talent which will provide stability and continuity for us this year,” Caldwell said. “In addition, we have picked up several players who did not play in the program last year but will bring a additional depth and talents and to the mix. We expect the program to continue with the successes it has experienced in the past and build on that tradition of excellence for the future.”
State College’s season took a turn when starting pitcher Jess Henderson suffered a knee injury.
Henderson is back in the circle this spring. The two-time all-Mid Penn pitcher is capable of overpowering any batter.
She’ll be backed up by a pair of District 6 Class AAAA first team all-stars in shortstop Corey Marfitt and left fielder Alyssa Shedlock. Marfitt brings speed to the lineup and Shedlock is a dangerous left-handed bat. Henderson also swings a big bat.
Brenna Adams saw extensive action at third base. Karli Nolan took over at pitcher following Henderson’s injury.
The rest of the lineup isn’t so clear as coach Mike Harper has to replace multiple starters lost to graduation.
Ellie Frey (infield), Andrea Myers (outfield), Abby Allen (infield) and Andrea Kling (infield) also saw action last season.
“We’re looking to playing our best softball in May and hopefully to content for Mid-Penn and District 6 titles,” Harper said. “We’re a young but athletic team.”