High School Sports

Philipsburg-Osceola softball falls in PIAA semifinal to end season

psheehan@centredaily.com

It was something the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team had not seen all postseason.

The Lady Mounties trailed at the end of the first inning, and their ace pitcher who had been nearly unhittable was struggling.

It was a recipe for the end of their season.

P-O was overpowered by South Park 4-0 Monday afternoon at Mount Aloysius College in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals, denying a chance at the team’s first state title since 2011.

“We’re disappointed,” senior Maggie Peck said after the game, with tears streaming down her cheeks. “We really wanted it.”

South Park (19-3) will play in its first PIAA championship game at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park. The Eagles will meet Pine Grove, who beat Mid Valley 10-6 Monday in the other semifinal.

Justine Dean pitched a three-hitter to shut down P-O (20-4) and get her team to the finals.

A three-run first inning, shocking the Lady Mounties, was all the Eagles needed.

South Park’s Jess Dean worked a walk from Harris — the first she surrendered in the entire postseason and just the seventh allowed all year — and Penn State commit Kaitlyn Morrison followed with an RBI triple rocketed to the fence in right-center field. After another walk, Justine Dean roped a double to the left-field corner to bring in two more runs.

In all, Harris gave up three walks and two hits, and had to throw 43 pitches in one inning before Peck came on in relief.

“She hasn’t seen that a lot this year,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said. “Give them credit. They were patient.”

Harris was also taken to a full count three times and saw a bunch of pitches fouled off to make her work even harder on the humid 86-degree day.

“I feel like we’re pretty disciplined at the plate,” South Park coach Larry Mercurio said. “We don’t swing at bad pitches.”

Catcher Kylie Thal knew her pitcher was battling in an unfamiliar situation. “Kam stayed strong in that inning,” she said. “I was really proud of her.”

Peck started warming up in the bullpen immediately after the first inning concluded, and the senior took over in the circle — aware she had to give her team a chance.

Peck allowed eight hits and a walk, but left the bases full for South Park three times.

“I didn’t think in the second inning I’d be in,” Peck said. “It is what it is.”

Gonder knew the advantages he had with Peck against a South Park lineup loaded with power, but also knew Harris hadn’t allowed a run in either District 6 or PIAA play until last Thursday’s quarterfinals, and at one stretch sat down 32 straight batters.

“Bringing Maggie in was more about keeping them off balance, their big hitters off balance with the change-up,” Gonder said. “Maybe I could have started her, kept them off balance from the very first pitch, know what I’m saying? But how do you go against — Kam’s given up two runs all playoffs. I’d have been an idiot if I’d done that.”

The only run Peck allowed came in the fifth. Following two line-outs, a foul pop up was dropped to give Charlyn Blackburn another chance, and she sneaked a single through the infield. After the bases were loaded, Grace Albitz hit a grounder to shortstop Hannah Thompson that was briefly bobbled, and her throw to get the runner at third was a fraction late to allow the run to score.

The inability to cash in on opportunities also cost P-O. Sadie Granville reached on an error and Annie Kost doubled to open the third, but Peck hit a line drive to just the wrong spot, with Katlyn Pavlick diving to snare the ball, then reaching up to tag Granville who was just a couple steps off the bag. The Lady Mounties eventually had the bases loaded but left everyone stranded.

“We had one opportunity to score runs,” Gonder said. “We didn’t take advantage of that.”

Most of the game Gonder’s team was baffled by Justine Dean, who was hardly overpowering but had a good mix of pitches and speeds. She gave up just three hits, no walks and hit two batters — Thompson both times.

“Her understanding of the game has evolved tremendously,” Mercurio said of his pitcher, who will play at Mercyhurst-North East next season.

Added Thal: “She’s good. She’s very good. She works the off-speed pitch well. I give her a lot of credit for that.”

After hitting so well all season and rolling through the playoffs — as it was their destiny to play on the Penn State diamond — it was a tough way for the Lady Mounties to hit the end.

“That’s unfortunate that we don’t get a chance to play one more game,” Gonder said. “We didn’t score any runs, they score four. Pretty easy math there.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

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