With the way the PIAA Class AA softball bracket is stacking up, it’s looking like Philipsburg-Osceola will have to go through all of District 7 to have a chance to play for a state title.
The Lady Mounties (22-1) beat the WPIAL’s third-place team Chartiers-Houston 4-1 in their PIAA opener on Monday and face WPIAL runner-up Deer Lakes (19-1) at 2 p.m. Thursday at Bedford High School in the quarterfinals. The winner of that game could face WPIAL champion Riverside (20-0), which is a big favorite against Ligonier Valley (17-4), the runner-up to P-O in District 6, in the state semifinals.
So how do the Lady Mounties stack up against the District 7 teams?
“We lost to a really good team,” Chartiers-Houston coach Tricia Alderson said of P-O Monday. “I think they’re going to go really far. We’ve only lost two games all year — this one and to Riverside. Both of the teams we lost to, I think they might be meeting in the semifinals. They’re really good.”
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The Lady Mounties certainly know what it takes to advance in the tournament. Several seniors played major roles in the school’s 2011 championship run, which culminated with a 1-0 triumph over Brandywine Heights.
Getting back to Penn State’s Nittany Lion Field isn’t a cakewalk.
“You can’t predict anything in here,” said pitcher Kate Burge. “I feel great about our team. With the way we bond together, we’re all like sisters and great teammates. … If you’re not a teammate, you’re not going to go very far even if you have all of the talent in the world. We have a lot of talented girls out there. If we remind each other that if we make a mistake, it’s okay. We’re going to be there to back each other up and rebound.”
Senior catcher Carly Gonder certainly believes the Lady Mounties are talented enough to win a gold medal.
“I’ve felt that from the beginning,” said Gonder, who had three hits and drove in a pair of runs on Monday. “Just proving it is the challenge.”
Coach Jim Gonder said his team has to do a few things well to keep its season alive.
“It comes down to if we hit the ball, play good defense and Kate spots her pitches,” said Gonder, who has taken the team to program to four PIAA title games and two crowns. “Those three things — spot pitches, timely hitting and good defense. Sounds like a winning formula to me.”
Burge knows much falls on her. After a spotty outing in an 8-7 win against Ligonier Valley in the district title game, Burge came back with a vengeance against Chartiers-Houston. She tossed a three-hitter and struck out 10 as she improved to 19-0 on the season and dropped her ERA to 1.07.
“This could have been my last game,” she said after Monday’s dominating performance. “For me working since I was six years old, it was a bittersweet feeling. It was one step closer (to the PIAA title) but at the same time it could have ended my career. Knowing that, it lit a fire under everyone’s butts, not just the seniors.”
Burge said almost as much as pitching well it is important to being a leader. She mentioned former teammate Chelsea Rex, who fired the Lady Mounties to the 2010 and 2011 championship games, as being an example. Rex, now at Saint Francis, is helping the Lady Mounties by throwing batting practice and being on the bench this postseason.
“With me being a senior pitcher, I have to go at the teams harder,” Burge said. “As a freshman and a sophomore, when I saw Chelsea Rex pitching I saw how confident she was and I saw what she was doing and everything was working, that made me feel okay and that I can do this.
“I feel like that’s my role as a pitcher — not only getting people out — but for me to make sure that the girls are confident in what we’re doing.”
Burge and the Lady Mounties (hitting .375 as a team) will face another confident pitcher in Deer Lakes’ Tiffany Edwards. The sophomore reportedly slept on a long bus trip to the Lady Lancers’ playoff opener, woke up and tossed a four-hitter in a 3-0 shutout of District 10 champion Fairview.
Edwards, who features a fastball, changeup, drop ands screwball, was highly efficient against Fairview. She needed just 74 pitches to win her 27-th career game.
Edwards also contributed with the bat, smacking a run-scoring triple and driving in another run with a groundout.
Burge will face a Deer Lakes lineup with five players hitting better than .340. Catcher Hannah Blinn leads the Lady Lancers with a .469 average and 35 RBIs. First baseman Sierra Sarver packs some pop and smacked a pair of doubles against Fairview.
Led by Abby Showers’ .548 average, the Lady Mounties boast a lineup with five players hitting .375 or higher. P-O has 20 homers and eight starters have driven in at least 12 runs.
Jim Gonder said his team should be prepared for the quarterfinal matchup
“You plug away,” he said. “Hard work pays off. I tell them that every day, ‘If you work hard, good things happen.’ We’re hoping that work ethic pays off.”