The end of the season is tough in any sport.
In the immediacy of the final moments, the emotions are difficult to manage. It’s the perspective of time and experience that can soften the blow.
On a sweltering Monday afternoon at Mount Aloysius College, the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team had its spectacular season closed out by South Park 4-0 in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals.
A win would have put the Lady Mounties in the state championship game for the first time since 2011, when they last won the crown. And they would have gotten to play in front of what almost certainly would have been a standing room-only Nittany Lion Softball Park.
As it was, hundreds of fans packed the grassy bank beyond the left and center field fence cheering on their heroes.
There was no shame in the loss. The Eagles’ pitcher, Justine Dean, had P-O guessing. A mix of speeds and locations quieted the Lady Mounties’ bats.
“The balls didn’t fall in our favor,” first baseman and pitcher Maggie Peck said.
As good as the P-O pitching has been this season in shutting down opposing offenses, South Park was just too good, especially a very powerful top 5 in the order.
Not that moral victories are welcome at this point, but only losing 4-0 and having a chance all the way to the final out was still impressive. It ended a 10-game win streak and was just the second time they had been shut out all year.
Another moral victory is that most of the P-O lineup is returning. It loses three seniors — Peck, second baseman Sadie Granville and outfielder Annie Kost — and still will only have three seniors on next year’s team.
It would not be a surprise to see these teams meet again — for a third straight year — in next year’s tournament. Dean is the only senior on the Eagles’ roster as they play in the first state title game in program history Friday.
The Lady Mounties were nonetheless among the state’s best, with eight of the nine starters in the lineup batting well over .300, a single-season team-record 29 home runs and a sophomore pitcher, Kam Harris, who flirted with perfection on the mound. The team also plays sound, fundamental defense, an annual display of a team coached by Jim Gonder, who has more than 600 wins on his resume and two state titles.
Still, it’s tough to take a loss when you get so close to your goal. That’s why Peck was choking back tears, stuttering through her words, when she had to talk about the end of her P-O career. She was not alone wiping away streams of moisture from her cheeks.
Then, seconds after Peck was finished talking — she asked to stop because she couldn’t control her emotions any longer — Gonder was leaning against the fence along the side of the field, elbows resting on the pad at the top, and smiled with pride. He had the perspective that the girls would not have for a while, when they can truly appreciate their accomplishments. He knows what they did, what will be in the future and how hard it was to get to that point.
Even though he has been there many times, Gonder never takes the success for granted. He is always pushing the girls to be the best they can be.
“We accomplished a lot this year,” he said. “When you have a Mountain League championship, a District 6 championship, make it to the (PIAA) final four — I’m not complaining.
“I’d pretty much take that every year.”
It’s amazing what can be seen with a little perspective.
District 6 dominance
Bob Hower of Lewistown researched District 6 tournament history, compiling a list of every softball champion and posting it on the district’s website. The end result proves something Centre County softball fans have known all along: Central Pennsylvania’s best teams are here.
Of the 115 total District 6 championships awarded since 1975, 64 have been won by county teams, or 56 percent. There are 49 high schools with PIAA-sanctioned sports, but none have more titles on the softball diamond than the county’s five teams. State College had the most with 22 titles, Bellefonte is next with 19, P-O has a dozen, Bald Eagle Area has six and Penns Valley has five — which ties two other schools for fifth.
All of them also have at least one PIAA title to their credit, with two each for State College, BEA and P-O.