High School Sports

Philipsburg-Osceola catcher Kylie Thal playing critical role in defensive success

Philipsburg-Osceola catcher Kylie Thal looks to the coaches during the game against Penns Valley on April 28. Thal has been critical to the Lady Mounties’ pitching success this season.
Philipsburg-Osceola catcher Kylie Thal looks to the coaches during the game against Penns Valley on April 28. Thal has been critical to the Lady Mounties’ pitching success this season. adrey@centredaily.com

If you have a seat behind home plate, listen really close. There is a chance you just might catch Kylie Thal’s in-game monologue.

Philipsburg-Osceola’s catcher talks to herself throughout every contest. “I get myself prepared,” the junior said.

It’s a good habit in any game, but it is especially important at this point in the season, with the Lady Mounties (18-3) preparing to meet Deer Lakes (16-2) at 4 p.m. Thursday at Mount Aloysius College in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals. The game will be P-O’s first venture out of Centre County since the start of the postseason, with the last two games at Penn State.

Philipsburg-Osceola kept its state title hopes alive Monday by edging out Pequea Valley 1-0, thanks in large part to its pitching. Kam Harris hit the game’s leadoff batter and gave up a single that rolled about 10 feet from the plate, but she then retired the next 21 batters.

Harris may have earned most of the credit for the victory, but it also wouldn’t have come without the chatty Thal.

“Kylie really is a boost of confidence behind the plate,” said Harris, who allowed just one ball to leave the infield Monday. “It’s great to know I have a catcher I can count on both on and off the field, and she worked extremely hard to get where she is today.”

Added coach Jim Gonder: “She’s a very, very, very good defensive catcher. Frames the ball well, blocks the ball well, throws the ball well, smart, can control the bunt situations — she does an excellent job.”

It’s those defensive situations — and the possibilities of a bunt — that bring out Thal’s conversations. They are mostly to herself, as she runs through scenarios on each pitch, each play. How many runners are on? Who is covering the bag if someone tries to steal? If the batter puts down a bunt, who gets the ball? Who is covering which bag?

The habit began years ago when her father, Jim, now an assistant coach, taught her the fundamentals and made sure she was aware of all the scenarios she could face.

“When I was young it used to be my dad,” she said of the voice in her head. “I could hear him.”

Eventually, as she gained confidence, the voice changed. “I took over the role for myself,” she said. “I’d rather hear myself than my dad.”

Thal isn’t too bad with a bat, either. She’s hitting .383 and cracked a double in Monday night’s win, her seventh extra-base hit of the season.

But it’s her ability in the field, the unspoken communication she has with Harris and her other teammates (and the spoken communication she has with herself), that’s made all the difference lately. Sometimes, the two friends might briefly hold a meeting in the circle — but, most times, Thal can communicate her thoughts to Harris with a nod.

And that chemistry — and communication — could make a big difference over the final two weeks of the season.

“Even on my worst days, she makes me look good,” Harris said. “But besides that, she keeps my confidence high. She reminds me of what I’m capable of, and I do the same for her. It’s a special bond.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

PIAA softball

Class 3A Quarterfinals

Thursday at Mount Aloysius College, Cresson

Philipsburg-Osceola vs. Deer Lakes, 4 p.m.

Radio: WBLF 970, 106.3, WPHB 1260

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