The theme for the State College softball team this season has been “Retrieve the Title.”
To get back the District 6 Class AAAA softball crown that they held for five consecutive seasons, the Lady Little Lions are going to have to start by beating the team that currently has the trophy.
Third-seeded State College (10-8) opens the playoffs at defending district champion Central Mountain (13-6) at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The winner will face top-seeded Mifflin County (15-5) in the title game on May 29 at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
To get back to that title game, the Lady Little Lions are going to have to win another time against a team that they’ve handled pretty well over the years in the postseason. State College beat Central Mountain in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 title games and knocked off the Lady Wildcats in the 2011 semifinals.
Coach Rick Hall is not counting on that history helping his club Wednesday afternoon.
“They have the advantage,” he said of the Lady Wildcats. “They’re the defending champs.”
But, Hall does believe that his club, which fell 2-1 in the district semifinals to Mifflin County last season, has the talent to knock off the tournament’s second seed.
“If we play to our potential, we can compete with anybody,” Hall said. “The Mid-Penn Conference has put us in that position. It’ll take a team effort. If Jess Henderson is on and we’re hitting the ball like we did in a stretch a week-and-a-half ago where we had 28 hits in two games, we have a shot.”
State College has been a different team with Henderson in the circle this season. The sophomore right-hander is 8-3.
“Jess is developed more into a pitcher this year than a thrower,” Hall said. “The last couple of games she’s pitched, she’s seemed like she’s having fun out there.”
Henderson also bats cleanup and is part of the meat of the order, hitters 3-7, that Hall is counting on to provide offense.
“(Laura) Harris, Henderson, (Sharaya) Simco, (Lexi) Mattivi and (Hope) Guthoff have got to hit the ball well for us,” Hall said. “They’ve got to produce with runners in scoring position.”
The Lady Wildcats enter the contest having won three straight to close the season, which gave them the narrow points edge to host today’s game. They piled up 31 runs in victories over St. Marys, Jersey Shore and Bellefonte.
Senior Kayla Glossner is swinging the hottest bat for David Peters’ squad. Glossner is batting a robust .508, with eight doubles, two home runs and 21 RBIs. She’s also scored a team-high 20 runs.
Sophomore Jessica Strouse adds a .456 average with two homers, 18 runs and 14 RBIs. Senior Brittany Koch (.389, 15 RBIs) and junior Moriah Lindsey (.354) are also hitting above .350.
Peters has a couple of options in the circle. Senior Whitney Peters is 5-2 with a 3.20 ERA, while junior Rachael Shady is 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA. Strouse (2-1, 2.25) has been used in relief and has a save.
After knocking off top-seeded Mifflin County 4-1 in last year’s district title game, the Lady Wildcats advanced to the second round of the PIAA Tournament.
It’s that experience of winning big games that has Hall conncerned about the Wildcats. During the run of five straight titles, the Lady Little Lions had many holdovers who had played and won in the most pressure-packed situations.
State College’s roster has few players with postseason experience aside from last season’s loss to Mifflin County.
“In the past, I’ve had kids come back that have had four or five games underneath their belts in the District 6 and state playoffs,” he said. “This year that’s the advantage that Central Mountain has over us --- that experience of being there and knowing how to win that big game in the playoffs.”