With tears in his eyes, State College coach Troy Allen walked toward the third base line after addressing his team following its loss in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals.
Tears ran down his face as he talked about the Little Lions, whose memorable postseason run ended with a 6-1 loss to Dallastown on Monday. He wiped tears away as he talked about this special group of players and coaches, only to have more tears form.
The last time Allen remembered feeling emotional at the end of a season, he was playing high school basketball. Seasons come and go, but this year and this team were different for the Little Lions coach. And the coach couldn’t contain his emotions shortly after the team’s loss.
“It’s not really about the loss,” Allen said of the emotion, “but just about what these guys have done for this program.”
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Allen credits this year’s team for laying the foundation for his vision for the program. The Little Lions (13-11) became a tight-knit group and got hot in the playoffs, winning the District 6 championship and reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. But they ran into a better team Monday as Dallastown (23-4) will take a 20-game winning streak into the state championship game against Pennsbury at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Dallastown became the first team to score against Little Lions ace Mason Mellott in the playoffs, taking control with a three-run third inning fueled by doubles by Bryant Holtzapple and Joe Capobianco. Mellott allowed five runs and struck out nine in 4 2/3 innings in the loss. State College’s Evan Smith recorded the team’s lone hit and scored its lone run against Coastal Carolina commit Nick Parker, who threw a complete game to earn the win.
Despite the loss, the Little Lions coaches and players were proud of their season.
“It’s not the storybook ending but, at the end of the day, only one team can win it all,” senior Gavin Schaefer-Hood said. “To be one of the last four teams at this level in Pennsylvania is an incredible accomplishment.”
Schaefer-Hood said he’ll remember all the moments at practices and hanging out with his teammates this season more than any score. The Little Lions worked to include everyone and took the time to get to know each other, talking while shagging fly balls at practice. Schaefer-Hood said he’ll go to State College’s games next season when he returns home from college, and he knows he’ll keep in touch with his teammates.
Allen could see the bond his players shared when they became emotional at the team’s banquet. The coach marveled at how they stayed loose during the playoffs, goofing off at practice and joking before games. He said he never played or coached a baseball team that was as close as this group.
But he did have a similar experience while playing for a basketball dynasty at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va. He made runs to the state semifinals during his career and developed a tight bond with the players on his sophomore year team. They still keep in touch through Facebook and still tease each other about memories from practices.
“And what I want in State College is for kids to feel the same way when they’re in Little League,” Allen said, “like I can’t wait to play in that dynasty at State High.”
Allen wants his program to compete for Mid Penn Conference titles and state titles — and the Little Lions proved they could play with the state’s best teams during the playoffs this year. With plenty of underclassmen returning, Allen said his players now expect to make deep postseason runs.
The coach is grateful for this year’s seniors and how they helped shape the program. Mellott, one of those seniors, said he was sad to see the season end, but he was proud of how the team came together to reach the state semifinals.
“This has been the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball and I love every one of those guys,” Mellott said. “We made it way farther than anybody expected.”