State College softball manager Jim Schaper joined the Lady Little Lions program in 1993, serving as an assistant off and on for every head coach the program has seen since. He won district titles as an assistant and even captured one in 2017, his first year as State College’s head coach. But this 2019 team — more specifically, this lineup — has opened even his eyes.
“This is the best hitting team I’ve seen in a long time,” the State College head coach said. And the numbers back up Schaper’s claim.
State College has averaged 13.2 runs per game in their nine wins, only once not reaching double digits. The Lady Little Lions have tallied 16 home runs, 43 doubles and six triples. As of Friday morning, the team boasted a batting average of .352 — with six regular starters hitting over .333 on the year.
The Lady Little Lions have dominated the batter’s box. That’s why senior Brandi Triebold said State College has “a really good chance” to win this year’s District 6 Class 6A title. And it’s why Schaper isn’t afraid to back his player’s claim.
“When we’re on our game, you’ll see 10 runs put on the board,” Schaper said earlier this week. “If we can hit the ball, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
That confidence was expressed earlier this week, before the Lady Little Lions defeated Mifflin County by 10 runs on Friday. State College’s 13-3 win epitomized its season to this point, getting production at the plate from girls throughout the order. McKenzie Shannon homered twice, Morgan Arnold and Caitlyn Brannon both put one over the wall, Addie Wasikonis and Ashley Thomas had multiple hits, and Triebold and Ashley Blumenthal doubled.
As of Saturday afternoon, State College still sits in second place behind Mifflin County in the district standings. That won’t matter much, though, as the two teams ought to meet for the district title. Altoona, the only other team in District 6 Class 6A, owns a 1-15 record.
The only thing that could hold State College back from beating Mifflin County and moving on to the PIAA tournament would be its pitching. Some teams across the commonwealth have a workhorse on the mound. Look no further than Philipsburg-Osceola ace Kam Harris. But not State College.
Schaper said the Lady Little Lions’ work in the circle has been “a little up and down” this year, and that’s putting it lightly. State College owns a 6.02 team ERA and has allowed nine or more runs in seven contests.
A part of those struggles are due to injuries. Starting pitcher Emma Wolfe has dealt with “off and on” issues while the Lady Little Lions’ second pitcher, Sophia Keene, has been bothered by elbow concerns, per Schaper.
Regardless, the coach recognizes that the Lady Little Lions won’t win a pitching duel. State College’s average margin of victory is 8.1 runs and average margin of defeat is 5.8 runs, after all.
“We need to score more than five to win pretty much every game. We’re playing for that,” Schaper said. “Our pitching’s been a little suspect, so we know we have to put runs on the board to win the game. We know we have to hit the ball to win.”
And that’s fine with the Lady Little Lions. They’re in a groove, winning their last three home games by a combined 32-9.
Wasikonis said all it takes is one teammate getting a hit before the “rest kind of just follow.” The second baseman said it creates a positive environment, one she believes will carry over into the Lady Little Lions’ probable district title matchup against Mifflin County.
“When we won last time, we racked up hits,” Wasikonis said, referencing State College’s 12-9 win over the Lady Huskies in early April. “And I think we’re going to do the same.”
Added Triebold: “We should be on top this year.”