Give the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team an early lead with Kam Harris on the mound, and the odds are in the Lady Mounties’ favor.
Pound out 11 hits including five doubles and a home run from Harris, and the team is all but unbeatable.
P-O used all that, plus a 4-for-4 day at the plate from Madison Lucas, to put away Deer Lakes 6-2 Thursday afternoon in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals at Mount Aloysius College.
The Lady Mounties (19-3) will meet South Park at noon Monday in the state semifinals back at Mount Aloysius.
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“I think it’s amazing,” Lucas said. “I’ve never been there ... but I’m really excited.”
South Park beat Ellwood City 11-0 in five innings Thursday, and ousted P-O from the state quarterfinals last season. The Lady Mounties are in the semifinals for the first time since 2014, when they lost a showdown with Bald Eagle Area, and are seeking their first state title game appearance since 2011.
Lucas’ big day at the plate, which included two doubles and an RBI, followed an 0-for-2 day with two strikeouts and a walk in her previous game. She said she took extra batting practice until she found her hitting groove again.
“I felt really awesome today,” said Lucas, who was hitting .556 before the PIAA tournament began.
Added coach Jim Gonder: “Madison had one heck of a game. Really ignited our offense for us.”
Harris gave up five hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings, while striking out three. It was a good showing for most pitchers in the postseason but an off-day for the sophomore. She retired 21 straight batters Monday after letting the first two reach base in the PIAA first round. She sat down the first 11 Thursday before a fourth-inning double by Katelynn Blair, ending a string of 32 consecutive batters retired.
“I felt pretty good coming into the game,” Harris said. “Another thing is that your teammates are always there to back you up even if you do have a bad day.”
The two runs allowed were the first two surrendered by the team in this postseason, with both scored in the bottom of the seventh on two hits and an error. Harris said she had a sore back by game’s end, and Maggie Peck was brought in for the final out to earn the save.
P-O had a lead for Harris before she even threw her first pitch, with Lucas roping a two-out double down the left field line and scoring when Harris’ line drive bounced off the mitt of the Lancers’ second baseman.
“With our defense and our pitcher, it’s a big deal,” Gonder said of the early lead. “It helps us keep a little momentum. It takes away their short game a little bit.”
Harris added to the lead in the third with a line-drive homer — her sixth home run of the season — left that carried well beyond the left-field fence.
“I actually didn’t know it was gone when I hit it,” Harris said. “It’s one of those feelings where it hits the right spot and you don’t even know that it’s gone.”
Jayde Burge singled and scored on a Kylie Thal double later in the inning.
P-O doubled its lead in the sixth when Annie Kost drew a leadoff walk, and with one out three straight doubles flew off the bats of Peck, Hannah Thompson and Lucas. Thompson’s hit scored two runs and Lucas plated one.
“Hannah’s hit was a big hit,” Gonder said. “Got a couple runs in for us. That was a big inning for us.”
That chased starter Kristen Rudy for the Lancers (16-3).
The first three hits Harris gave up were doubles, and Deer Lakes hit 10 fly outs and pop-ups. It was uncharacteristic for Harris, who allowed only one ball to leave the infield Monday, and all the fly balls frustrated Lancers coach Craig Taliani.
“We brought our 9-irons instead of our drivers today,” Taliani joked. “We didn’t strike out. ... We put the ball in play, but it’s pretty easy when you’re hitting fly-ball outs.”
One of those fly outs belongs on the highlight reels. Brittany Dengler lofted the ball to shallow center field to open the seventh. P-O second baseman Sadie Granville raced quickly back and reached for the ball, which bounced in and out of her glove but went right to center fielder Kendra Carns, who snagged the ball with her bare right hand just above the grass.
“I don’t know how she caught that one. That’s good hand-eye coordination,” said Gonder, then putting his tongue in his cheek. “That’s something we practice a lot.”