Carly Gonder already has her share of District 6 Class AA softball championship medals, but that doesn’t mean the Philipsburg-Osceola catcher doesn’t want another one.
“I’m a senior and I have three district medals hanging in my room,” Gonder said after driving in three runs in a 5-2 semifinal win over Bellwood-Antis. “It would be nice to have a fourth.”
She and her teammates will get that chance Wednesday as the top-seeded and three-time defending champions (20-1) face 10th-seeded Ligonier Valley (16-3) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
The pride is mostly what’s on the line today, since both teams qualified for the PIAA Championships by winning in the semifinals. That does not mean the Lady Mounties, the PIAA champs in 2011, aren’t motivated for today’s game.
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“Every day it’s about getting better,” said Lady Mounties shortstop Abby Showers. “We each set goals of winning the Mountain League, winning the districts and maybe even a state championship.”
“That’s obviously motivation, but that’s a goal on the way to our ultimate goal,” said coach Jim Gonder, who has led the Lady Mounties program to two PIAA titles and two runner-up finishes. “We have big goals. They know when they play here that we have big goals. We have a chance to do that and that’s the best part of the season.”
While there will be plenty of talent on Beard Field on Wednesday, the spotlight will be at shortstop with Ligonier Valley’s Maddy Grimm, one of the best athletes in the state, and the Lady Mounties’ Showers, also an incredible athlete. Both are outstanding at the plate and in the field.
P-O will get its second look at Grimm, a senior who is headed to Kent State on a softball scholarship. The Lady Mounties last saw Grimm in the 2010 quarterfinals, when the two teams were arguably the top two teams in district tournament. P-O rallied that day to an 8-5 win and went on to a District 6 crown and a run to the PIAA finals.
Grimm made an impression that day and far beyond. Grimm had a school-record 112 career goals in soccer, was an all-district basketball selection and kicked the past two seasons for the Rams’ football team. She is hitting a robust .569 this season with six homers, three triples, five doubles and 25 RBIs. Thanks to many intentional walks, she has a .672 on-base percentage.
“We knew she was something special then and is still something special,” Gonder said of left-handed hitting leadoff hitter, who has five career playoff homers against Centre County teams. “I’ve only seen her play once or twice, but I know that she’s very good.
“Obviously you have to throw her in with some of the local kids because I’ve seen them more often, but everything I know about her is that she’s good. She kicks extra points for the football team. Maybe she swims the 50-yard dash for the swim team. I don’t know but it sounds like she does it all. She’s one of those rare athletes.”
Gonder has one of those rare athletes in Showers, a sophomore who is also a standout in volleyball and basketball. Gonder is already bringing Showers’ name up with some of the great shortstops in program history.
Showers showed her diverse talents in the semifinals. She had two hits, including a solo homer, and turned a key double play in the triumph. For the season, Showers leads the Lady Mounties with a .554 average, five homers, 10 doubles and 28 RBIs. She has just three errors at softball’s toughest position.
“She’s definitely a spark plug for us,” Gonder said.
Showers said she looks forward to playing against Grimm. “It’s a great opportunity to get better,” she said.
Carly Gonder credits Showers among several underclassmen who have the Lady Mounties blazing.
“I think this team has a lot of heart,” Carly Gonder said. “I’m not saying any of my other teams haven’t. We might not be the biggest girls, but we want this so much.
“The younger girls like Abby and Mackenzie (Burge) and Megan (Bainey), they push us. … While we have achieved so much, they want to achieve just as much. … The underclassmen are amazing. I look up to them as much as they look up to me.”
Kate Burge will face Ligonier Valley’s Hailey Umbaugh in the circle.
Burge (17-0, 0.89 ERA) has allowed just three runs in three postseason starts. Besides Grimm, Courtney Frappier (.373, 3 homers) is the Lady Rams’ other top hitter.
Umbaugh (16-3) will be challenged by a potent P-O lineup that features what Carly Gonder calls “nine No. 4 hitters.” The Lady Mounties certainly have the pop, with 20 homers on the season and a .373 team average. Besides Showers, Haley Frank (.435), Bainey (.386), Mackenzie Burge (.386), Haley Hayward (.344), Aisha Goss (.339) and Carly Gonder (.338) are starters hitting better than .300.
Regardless if she gets that fourth district title medal, Carly Gonder says her team already can be proud.
“It’s an accomplishment to make it out of District 6,” she said. “When you make it out of District 6, you have a really positive mindset going into the (PIAA) playoffs because we’ve faced some of the best teams in the state in our own league.”