High School Sports

Philipsburg-Osceola shatters home run records on way to District 6 title game

adrey@centredaily.com

After Haylee Hayward set Philipsburg-Osceola’s career record for home runs (19) last season, she told her teammates that one of them would break it in the future.

Maggie Peck never even imagined it would be her just one season later.

“At that point, I had 11 (career) home runs,” Peck said, “and I thought, ‘No way. There’s no way I could do that. I’m not Haylee Hayward. She’s amazing.’”

Peck surprised herself by doubling her career total with 11 home runs this season — bringing her career total to 22 — to surpass Hayward’s mark and lead a record-setting campaign for the Lady Mounties. P-O coach Jim Gonder said his team has already set the program record this season with 28 home runs, shattering the previous record of 19.

Peck, a senior, and sophomore Madison Lucas combined to hit 19 homers this year to lead the No. 2-seed Lady Mounties into the District 6 Class 3A championship game against No. 4-seed Ligonier Valley at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Gonder, Peck and Lucas all admit it’s been a surprise to see this team set the home run record one year after the graduation of Hayward and fellow power hitter Chelsey Henry. Hayward followed her former teammates’ season closely this spring and expressed her pride in seeing their success ahead of the district title game.

Hayward saw the potential in Lucas as a freshman last season when she tripled against Penns Valley. In youth softball, Lucas hit singles and bunted all the time, but she showed her home-run power for the first time this year. She came into the season with the goal to hit home runs — even though her coaches don’t want their players to swing for the fences.

“I’m hoping they’re trying to hit some line drives,” Gonder said.

Still, Lucas achieved that goal with her first home run to center field at Central. More home runs followed during her breakout season, which came after a small change to her swing during the offseason. She used to stand still at the plate, but now, she moves her hands as she waits for the pitch.

She also spent time in the batting cage in her basement, working on hitting solid line drives. The sophomore hit two home runs to center field in a win over Bellefonte, adding that one bounced onto P-O’s football field.

“Words can’t even explain how I felt,” Lucas said.

In the same game against Bellefonte, Hannah Thompson hit perhaps the team’s most memorable home run of the season.

Thompson never hit a homer before her three-run, walk-off shot off Lady Red Raiders ace Tara Baney — and it had been on her mind.

“Her mom had told me that she was watching all of us hitting these home runs and she said to her mom, ‘When am I going to get to hit a home run?’” Peck said. “And then the next game, she comes up and really stepped up and won the game for us.”

Thompson’s homer even prompted Hayward to make a congratulatory call.

“I called her up and I said, ‘Hey, I heard somebody hit a walk-off home run. Would you mind telling me who that was?’” Hayward said.

It wasn’t the only home run to reconnect former teammates on the phone this spring — Peck talked with Hayward after breaking her individual career record.

Peck, a senior, said she’s hit four or five home runs in past seasons, but she’s been more consistent and confident this year. She also generated more power due to an adjustment to her approach as she simply lifts her foot and puts it right down rather than taking a long stride.

“I worked hard to just kind of put my foot down and not change the level of my eyes,” Peck said. “And I think that’s helped me a lot, and it’s helped my power as well because I can keep my weight back and then use it in my swing instead of losing it in the lunge.”

Peck’s powerful swing helped the Lady Mounties replace the production of Hayward and Henry and rewrite the program’s record books.

“Last year, we relied on Haylee and Chelsey so much, and we didn’t think we needed to be so powerful when they were here,” Peck said. “I think we always had the power, but we just really stepped into their shoes, and we’ve really made the best of it.”

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