In his 31 years as a varsity coach, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Jim Gonder is hard-pressed to remember two better shortstops than Ligonier Valley’s Maddy Grimm and the Lady Mounties’ Abby Showers being on the field at the same time.
The two certainly were worth the price of admission in Wednesday’s District 6 Class AA softball title game.
In the end, Showers got more opportunities to swing the bat and delivered three hits, including a pair of run-scoring triples, as P-O rallied past the Lady Rams 8-7 in an entertaining title game at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Philipburg-Osceola (21-1), which also got three hits and two RBIs from Mackenzie Burge, won its fourth straight district title and will face Chartiers-Houston, the third-place team from District 7, in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs on Monday. Ligonier Valley (16-4) faces District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge on Monday.
Sophomore Showers and senior Grimm, who had two hits including a mammoth home run, put on a dazzling display of hitting, fielding and all-around play.
“My gosh, I don’t think you’ll see two better shortstops anywhere,” said Gonder. “They play well, throw well, hit well. That’s a lot of talent.”
Showers, now hitting .565 on the season, said playing against Grimm, who is headed to Kent State and now hitting .585 after two hits and two intentional walks, was educational.
“She’s going to a Division I college and that’s awesome,” Showers said. “That makes me want to get better and look up to her and try to do the same things she does.”
With P-O leading 2-0 after Burge smacked an RBI triple and scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the first inning, Grimm rallied the Lady Rams leading off the third.
Grimm, who hit a bloop double in the first, fell behind 0-1 to Kate Burge, but crushed the next pitch deep over the right-center field fence. The ball traveled at least 250 feet and part of the way up the hill behind the fence.
Gonder called the shot a “mammoth, mountain, Yellowstone Park home run.
“We got a little confident there,” he said. “That was my fault. We should have just walked her four times and been happy.”
Before the inning was over, Ligonier Valley would add four more runs. Rachel Wallace plated one with a single and Brittany Lynch had an RBI groundout for the Lady Rams. Two more scored as P-O committed two errors on a bunt.
Gonder blamed Grimm for the outburst.
“I think the home run triggered the other runs,” he said. “It changed the momentum.”
“In past games, me batting No. 1 is a major impact of how the rest of the team falls into place,” Grimm said. “... Whenever I got it, I was like, ‘Hopefully that pumps the girls up.’ They look towards me and if I do well then they get some confidence.”
Facing its first multiple-run deficit in the playoffs, P-O rallied back behind Showers. Her RBI triple in the right-center field gap plated Mackenzie Burge to cut the lead to 5-3 after three innings.
The Lady Mounties took the lead for good in the fifth. A walk and an error put two runners on and Showers smoked another deep triple to left-center field to tie the score. Showers scored on Haylee Hayward’s sacrifice fly. P-O pushed the margin to 7-5 as Carly Gonder doubled and scored on Megan Bainey’s RBI single.
“We were a little bit down and we made a few mistakes,” said Showers of the 5-2 deficit. “It happens. You’re going to be up during the game and you’re going to be down. It’s all part of the game. That’s why you have a team there and the team picks you up. We just got back up and fought back.
“I said, ‘Hey I need to pick my team up. I need to get something started.’ That’s what happened I guess.”
P-O added a key insurance run in its next at-bat as Haley Frank doubled to left and scored on Mackenzie Burge’s single to left. Grimm ended a potentially bigger inning by making a diving grab in front of the second base bag and throwing to first for a double play.
Ligonier Valley didn’t go down without a fight in the seventh. After Grimm was intentionally walked and Jackie Berry drew a walk, a two-out, two base-error plated both runners. With the potential tying run at second, Kate Burge got Wallace on a grounder to first baseman Mackenzie Burge to end the game.
“We knew coming in here it was going to be a good game and it was,” Ligonier Valley coach Mark Zimmerman said. “We knew were facing a good team and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.”
Carly Gonder and Bainey each had two hits as the Lady Mounties struck for 12 hits against Hailey Umbaugh (16-4).
“We just couldn’t get the stops when we needed to, but credit them,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve got some good hitters over there. If you make a mistake and leave it across the plate, it gets hit.”
Kate Burge (18-0) allowed six hits, walked four and struck out three.
Grimm said playing the tough Lady Mounties was a good measuring stick for the Lady Rams at they head into the PIAAs.
“I know that Philipsburg, their hitting was on key tonight,” she said. “I know that it gives me even more hope for our team that we’ll do well. They are very well coached and a very well all-around team. I hope the other girls realize that they beat us. It’s not that we did beat ourselves.”
Gonder said his team, which had struggled hitting over the last two playoff games, got a lift after facing a solid pitcher in Umbaugh.
“The fact that we got down 5-2, our hitters had to perform in the clutch,” he said. “That’s going to help. They’ve got to start believing that they’re a very good hitting team.”