High School Sports

Here’s why BEA softball isn’t looking at itself as an underdog in Friday’s state title game

BEA’s Madison Peters talks after PIAA semifinals shutout vs. Clearfield

BEA pitcher Madison Peters pitched a complete game shutout against Clearfield in the PIAA semifinals Tuesday at Mount Aloysius to advance to the championship game against Pine Grove on Friday.
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BEA pitcher Madison Peters pitched a complete game shutout against Clearfield in the PIAA semifinals Tuesday at Mount Aloysius to advance to the championship game against Pine Grove on Friday.

Don’t call Bald Eagle Area an underdog.

Sure, the Lady Eagles (22-3) are set to take on an undefeated Pine Grove (27-0) in Friday’s Class 3A softball state championship. And, yes, Pine Grove is batting a collective .491 this season — and outscored its last three postseason opponents 40-0.

But BEA isn’t focused on those numbers, and it’s not embracing any kind of underdog role. It’s looking at itself as an equal — and it’s expecting a dogfight at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Beard Field.

“I’m a firm believer that if you look at yourself as an underdog, then that’s what you believe,” BEA coach Don Lucas said. “And we don’t want to take a backseat to anybody.”

Added senior second baseman Kaleigh Kinley: “We just need to stay true to our game.”

Bald Eagle Area surprised plenty of fans with their level of success this season, by following that same mindset throughout the year. Despite just one senior on the roster, the young group focused on itself and blew past the solid pitching of the Mountain League, won a few close games at districts and adjusted as needed in the state tournament.

The Lady Eagles didn’t look at themselves as underdogs against historic powers like Philipsburg-Osceola, the defending state champion, and they beat them twice — including in the district semifinals. So they see no reason to abandon that mentality now.

Lesser teams might not be as confident.

Pine Grove — a District 11 team nicknamed the Cardinals — couldn’t be more different than Bald Eagle Area in a lot of ways. PGA has 10 seniors, including six senior starters. The Cardinals have set school records already in both runs (356) and hits (359), and they’ve beaten each of their opponents by an average of 12 runs.

Bald Eagle Area boasts a much tighter margin — with an average victory of four runs — but they’ve also been tested more in close games. Pine Grove has competed in just one game decided by three runs or less; BEA has had three since the district tournament began May 20.

Just don’t expect the Lady Eagles to get wrapped up in those statistics.

“It doesn’t matter what the stats say,” BEA pitcher Madison Peters said. “Any team can have a bad day, too. It just depends.”

Bald Eagle Area made it this far thanks to Lucas’ small-ball philosophy, the right arm of Peters (1.49 ERA) and team chemistry. Unlike some past years, there’s no drama on this team — and Lucas had to smile when he spotted one of his young players dancing to music in the outfield of the quarterfinals. “They weren’t fazed; they weren’t overwhelmed,” Lucas added. “They’re having fun.”

Bald Eagle Area hasn’t been to the state title game since 2014. It hasn’t won since 2009. And, prior to this season, it hadn’t won a state playoff game in five years. But the Lady Eagles are young, confident and talented — and, heading into Friday, they’re not intimidated by an undefeated team that knocked off Bloomsburg 17-0 in the semis.

These Lady Eagles know they belong. “Everybody thinks of themselves as an equal,” outfielder Mara Hockenberry said.

So don’t call them an underdog.

If You Go

Who: Bald Eagle Area (22-3) vs. Pine Grove (27-0)

What: PIAA Class 3A Softball Championship

Where: Penn State’s Beard Field

When: 1:30 p.m. Friday

Key players: BEA — P Madison Peters (146 IP, 164 Ks, 26 BBs, 1.49 ERA); OF Mara Hockenberry (.436 BA, 23 SBs, 27 runs); OF Makena Baney (.329 BA, 12 SBs, 24 runs); PGA — P Olivia Lehman (122.1 IP, 126 Ks, 37 BBs, 1.43 ERA); IF Katelyn Rittenbaugh (.702 BA, 32 RBIs, 67 runs); Maura Lehman (.649 BA, 34 RBIs, 45 runs); IF Trish Kopinetz (.622 BA, 73 RBIs, 12 runs, 10 homers)

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