High School Sports

High school softball: State College, Bellefonte set for District 6 playoff openers

State College Area and Bellefonte are looking for different results against familiar foes as the two teams battle in District 6 softball playoff games on Wednesday.

The third-seeded Lady Little Lions (11-9) travel to No. 2 Mifflin County (15-5), a team that has beaten them twice in the Mid Penn regular season, for a Class AAAA semifinal at 4 p.m.

Bellefonte (11-8), the No. 2 seed in Class AAA, hosts No. 3 Hollidaysburg (9-10), a team that won the only meeting between the two squads in the regular season, in a 4 p.m.. semifinal.

State College sputtered down the stretch, dropping five of its last seven games. Two of those losses came against defending district champion Mifflin County, which handled the Lady Little Lions 9-1 and 7-2 on consecutive days.

Lady Little Lion coach Mike Harper said his team has welcomed the break after logjam of games to close out the regular season.

“We played seven games in nine days,” Harper said. “When you play so many days in a row and you have to have a day off because the PIAA requires it, you don’t get any practice time. And, we’ve had some injuries. When you have the injuries, you have to put new kids in places. We literally were playing kids who had not practiced in spots simply because we had accumulated so many injuries. The time off gave us time to get those kids a little bit more acclimated.”

Harper said his club is going to have to be ready to face the Lady Huskies, led by former State College coach Jack McCurdy.

“They’re a good team,” Harper said. “They’ve got really good pitching and really good hitting. When you put those two things together it makes it tough. Jack does a really good job with those guys.”

While Mifflin County used two pitchers against State College this season, Harper expects to see Shelby Lyter in the circle on Wednesday. The senior is 12-4 with a 0.85 ERA this season.

The Little Lions are going to need find a way to cool off Allessa Morrison and Jordan Shirey. Leadoff hitter Morrison, a catcher, is 4 for 7, has scored four runs and belted a homer in the two games. Second baseman Shirey has been even better, going 5 for 8 with three runs and five RBIs.

That job falls to Karli Nolan (5-8) who has taken over in the circle following an injury to Jess Henderson (6-0). Nolan will get her first postseason start.

“She’s ready,” Harper said. “She’s been working the location of some of her pitches and she finally got some rest, too. We were down to one pitcher and when we had all of those games in a row any kid is going to get fatigued. She had some really good rest and mentally she’s a really tough kid. I feel pretty good she’s going to have a good game for us.”

Harper will start five seniors behind Nolan — catcher Sharayah Simco, first baseman Laura Harris, second baseman Megan Robert, center fielder Lexi Mattivi and right fielder Sarah Bastian.

Speedy shortstop Corey Marfitt leads the squad with a .411 average, while Mattivi (.410) and Ayssa Shedlock (.397) are close behind. All three were all district picks and Mattivi and Shedlock were named to the All- Mid Penn first team.

Harper expects his team to give a good showing.

“We’ve had some tough breaks this year and the kids have never given up their desire to win this District 6 title,” he said. “They didn’t quit on us and it’s a real credit to the leadership of those kids, especially those seniors.”

Hollidaysburg at Bellefonte

The Lady Red Raiders lost a 7-6 decision to Hollidaysburg earlier this season with their three-run rally in the top of the seventh falling a run short. Both teams struggled in the field with four errors apiece.

“It was a back-and-forth game,” Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said. “We felt like we gave away some runs and I’m sure they felt like they gave away some runs at the end of the game. We’re looking forward to getting back out there and see what we can do against them.”

The game is also a rematch of last year’s District 6 Class AAA final. Kohlhepp expects to see the Lady Golden Tigers’ Alyssa Pheasant in the circle. Pheasant tossed a a five-hitter in Hollidaysburg’s 2-0 win in the title game.

“She’s a great pitcher,” Kohlhepp said. “We’re going to have to be disciplined and have some good at-bats. If we make her life easy, it’s going to be a long day for us.”

Unlike many of Bellefonte’s past District 6 title contenders, this year’s squad has players in several positions who have not tasted postseason action.

“They are very excited about getting the chance,” Kohlhepp said. “We have several players that don’t have the playoff experience, but it’s a big benefit to play county ball and go up against the Penns Valleys, Philipsburg-Osceolas and Bald Eagles. We get a lot of pressure and fans at those games.”

The Lady Red Raiders do have a player with four seasons of playoff experience in catcher Vanessa Cooper, who has a history of performing well. “She always a a feel for the pulse of the game, which is great to see. Certainly, she rings experience and can help us go far.”

Shortstop Mikayla Focht, who also pitches, swings the biggest stick for Holidaysburg. Focht is hitting .477 with a team-high three home runs. Designated player Siera Paul (.455) and Pheasant (.436) also hit well above .400. All three players had two hits against Bellefonte this season.

Angela Capparelle had two hits and drove in two against Pheasant earlier this season.

Kohlhepp says he has not made a decision who will start against the Lady Golden Tigers. Stevi Confer pitched well in last year’s district title game. Tara Baney and Rachel Bernier saw action against Hollidaysburg in this season’s game.

“We kind of like a couple of different combinations and we’re figuring out what is going to work best,” Kohlhepp said. “Whichever pitcher we get going out there we’re excited by and we’re going to have strong defense behind her.

“I’ve felt like we’ve had some really good practices,” he added. “We’re excited to get on the field of battle and see what we can do.”

Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt