An entire season filled with home runs and strikeouts, shutouts and mercy rules, finally comes down to this.
Penn State will host six PIAA championship games on Thursday — three in baseball (Class A, 3A, 5A), three in softball (Class 2A, 4A, 6A) — before hosting the final six contests on Friday. And although no local teams are taking part this season, there’s still plenty to watch at Nittany Lion Softball Park and Medlar Field at Lubrano Park the next two days.
Here’s a closer look at each matchup Thursday:
Softball (Nittany Lion Softball Park)
Class 2A: Minersville (23-2) vs. South Side (20-3), 11 a.m.
South Side has never before made it this far. Minersville is making its 11th such appearance. South Side averages about six runs a game; Minersville 11. In other words, it’s clear who the favorite is in this championship game. The Miners have been on quite the roll so far this postseason. According to the Pottsville Republican Herald, Minersville ace Maura Bentz has allowed just two runs in 23 innings (0.61 ERA) these playoffs, and the team has hit a collective .516 while outscoring the competition 33-2. South Side senior Hunter Hand will be the biggest threat to Bentz, as she’s batting .536 this season while striking out just three times in 74 plate appearances.
Class 4A: Tunkhannock (19-5) vs. Mt. Pleasant (16-3), 1:30 p.m.
Only one thing is certain Thursday: One team is going to wind up winning its school’s first-ever softball championship. Neither Tunkhannock nor Mt. Pleasant have ever before come away with the title, and both teams are eager to set the precedent. Tunkhannock boasts a solid defense headlined by two pitchers with 18 appearances apiece — Hope Jones (11-2, 1.56 ERA) and Kendra Schultz (8-3, 1.71 ERA) — while Mt. Pleasant has a solid bottom of the batting order. Mt. Pleasant also has plenty to look forward to in 2018, as it boasts just one senior starter.
Class 6A: Hazleton (22-3) vs. Hempfield Area (26-0), 4 p.m.
Hazleton reached the PIAA semifinals last season before a gut-wrenching, final-inning loss — and it’s got momentum on its side this season. The team out of Luzerne County is 22-3 and is riding a 10-game winning streak. The only problem? Hempfield Area is 26-0 and has one of the nation’s top softball prospects. Pitcher Morgan Ryan, a Notre Dame commit, was named the 2017 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year. At the time of the award, earlier this month, she had a 0.87 ERA and was batting .446.
Baseball (Medlar Field at Lubrano Park)
Class A: Meyersdale (20-6) vs. Clarion (21-3), 12:30 p.m.
Meyersdale returns to the Class A state championship game for the second straight season after falling to Vincentian last year. Pitt commit Riley Christner leads the Bulldogs with a .568 batting average and 43 RBIs, to go along with a 9-1 pitching record, a 0.61 ERA and 110 strikeouts. For Clarion, there’s definitely some power at the plate — Spencer Miller leads the offense with a .431 batting average — but, due to PIAA rules, there could be trouble on the mound. Clarion ace Reed Anthony (11-1, 0.40 ERA) threw 95 pitches in the team’s 1-0 win over Greensburg Central Catholic in the semifinals Monday, according to the Courier Express. Under the PIAA’s pitch count rules, he’s required three calendar days of rest, meaning he won’t be available to pitch Thursday after earning wins in the first round and quarterfinals and throwing six scoreless innings in the semifinals.
Class 3A: Holy Redeemer (16-5) vs. Central (23-3), 3 p.m.
Centre County baseball fans are familiar with District 6 and Mountain League power Central. The Scarlet Dragons head into the state title game with a 23-3 record, with the losses to Bellefonte, Clearfield and Huntingdon by a combined four runs. Central will be looking to win the program’s first state championship after falling short in 1984, 2010 and 2014. Chase Smith paces Central’s offense with a .481 batting average and 37 RBIs, according to MaxPreps. District 2 champion Holy Redeemer is making its first state title game appearance after beating Loyalsock 4-0 in the semifinals. Holy Redeemer pitcher Tony Molitoris threw shutouts in the first round and semifinals of the state tournament. In a 4-3 win over Oley Valley in the quarterfinals, Jordan Choman earned the win and Molitoris picked up the save.
Class 5A: Whitehall (13-12) vs. Greater Latrobe (23-2), 5:30 p.m.
Whitehall has put together an improbable run to reach the state championship game. The Zephyrs went into the four-team District 11 tournament as the No. 4 seed with an 8-12 record. Whitehall won the title to reach the PIAA playoffs, where its hot streak continued with wins over Daniel Boone, Upper Moreland and Wallenpaupack. “Something’s clicked with this team after we qualified for the playoffs,” Whitehall coach Shaun O’Boyle told The Allentown Morning Call after the team’s semifinal win over Wallenpaupack. “Since then our bats have been great, our pitching’s been phenomenal. Everything about our game right now is clicking.” Greater Latrobe, meanwhile, improved to 23-2 this season with its win in the PIAA semifinals. Pitcher Ryan Shawley allowed three hits as he led the District 7 champion Wildcats past Springfield (Delco) 2-1 to clinch a spot in the state title game.