High School Sports

District 6 Class AAA softball: Bellefonte edges Hollidaysburg to return to title game

As the season goes on, coaches want to see improvement. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be leaps and bounds of progression.

Beating a team you lost to earlier in the season shows growth.

And winning by only one run reveals focus, determination and heart. All qualities of a championship team.

That's exactly what Bellefonte will get the chance to become after beating Hollidaysburg 3-2 in the District 6 AAA softball semifinals on Thursday at O’Leary Fields.

“What I was most impressed by was they didn’t play like they had all the pressure on them,” Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp said. “We never sensed panic and we know the type of hitters Hollidaysburg has in its lineup. So, we had to be very careful with them, but our pitchers just felt confident in what they were throwing. And if they did put the ball in play we know we have players with the gloves to make the plays we need to win the game.”

The Lady Raiders turned the tables on the Golden Tigers after their last meeting a month ago. Hollidaysburg beat Bellefonte, 7-6, winning a game that was a lot different on offense, but similar to how tightly-contested Thursday’s game was.

Hollidaysburg head coach Brenda Johnsonbaugh knows exactly why her team didn’t come out on the right side this time.

“This game we didn’t hit and the last game we did,” Johnsonbaugh said. “We didn’t get runners on base and we didnát get hits when we needed them. We’re really, really young and our season was kind of inconsistent, but some positive things came out of this year. I can’t complain about the way we battled today.”

If you’re the away team in the postseason, taking advantage of mistakes is a must. The Tigers did just that in the opening inning. After Payton Civils got on base with a single she made the most of it, advancing her way to third and stealing home for the first run of the game.

The Lady Raiders needed a response, and they delivered one in the bottom frame.

With two outs and courtesy runner Jessica Fishburn on first, Bellefonte starting pitcher Tara Baney hit a rope, straddling the right field line. Baney’s triple scored Fishburn to tie the game at 1-1. The Lady Raiders followed up with another big hit in the next inning, coming from the No. 9 batter, Jenna Ault. Her single through the middle of the infield brought home Stevi Confer, giving Bellefonte the lead for good.

“We did a great job, coming right back,” Kohlhepp said. “I thought we had a really good approach at the plate and had some big two-out scoring runs. It was top to bottom, throughout the lineup. Jenna had a coming-out game for us. She swung the bat really well and thatás good to see from only a freshman. We gave her a shot today and she picked it up for us.”

Liz Linn’s sacrifice fly in the bottom fourth added to Bellefonte’s lead at 3-1. Hollidaysburg didn’t fade away, though. In the fifth, Mikayla Focht’s triple brought the Golden Tigers to within one run. But, again, Bellefonte responded. This time it was defensively, making a pitching change to Stevi Confer, with two outs in the fifth. Confer retired the next seven of eight batters, striking out three along the way, saving the game for the Lady Raiders.

One of the main contributors in the win for the Bellefonte was Vanessa Cooper. She was a perfect 3 for 3 at the plate. She is also the clear leader of the team. By her actions and vocally. Cooper talked about her role and joked a little about it, too.

“We all have very high standards and respect for one another,” Cooper said. “We take criticism well. If someone needs called out, they’re going to take it. If I need called out then I’m going to have to take it. I’m just a little louder than everyone else.”

The chance win a District 6 title is something Cooper has been waiting for all season.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “This is my fourth year going to the district championship and it feels great. This is a different team than I’ve ever played with. There are a lot of young girls, a lot of energy and a lot of passion. That makes all the difference. They all have my back and we play for each other.”

Bellefonte will face the top seed Johnstown in the championship game at the Nittany Lion Softball Park at noon on Wednesday.