High School Sports

High school softball: Philipsburg-Osecola using district loss as fuel for PIAAs

Philipsburg-Osceola’s Tiffany Wagner takes a swing against Blairsville during a District 6 softball game on Thursday.
Philipsburg-Osceola’s Tiffany Wagner takes a swing against Blairsville during a District 6 softball game on Thursday. CDT photo

The Philipsburg-Osceola softball team shed a few tears following Wednesday’s 5-4 eight-inning loss in the District 6 Class AA final against Bald Eagle Area.

“The bad news is that they were crying about a softball game,” Lady Mounties coach Jim Gonder said. “The good news is that they were crying about a softball game. It showed they cared. ... Five years ago, it might have been the end of the season.”

This time is wasn’t the end, since District 6 places two teams in the PIAA Tournament. The Lady Mounties (18-5), a PIAA semifinalist last season, face District 9 champion Moniteau (20-0) in the opening round at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Clarion-Limestone High School.

The Lady Mounties admit falling in the district finals stung. The loss snapped a string of four consecutive district crowns.

“Yeah, you have to move on fast to move to the next game, but it hurt,” first baseman Kenzie Burge said. “It hurt for about a day or two.”

“We all thought about it and it was a reality check,” third baseman Abby Showers added. “Even if you’re the top dog, the top dog gets knocked off sometimes. We’re using that as motivation. We’re dogs on a leash and (Monday) we’re going to come off our leash.”

Senior catcher Haley Frank said there were definitely some lessons to be learned from the contest in which the Lady Mounties led 4-0 after three innings.

“Even if we do start off great, we have to still keep pushing the entire way,” Frank said. “We have to keep it up.”

Gonder said his team has had three solid days of practice heading into Monday’s matchup with unbeaten Moniteau, which brings in some gaudy statistics into the clash. The Lady Warriors are hitting .495 as a team and are averaging more than 11 runs per game. They’ve outscored their opponents 228-47 this season.

Moniteau starts six freshman, including pitcher Kennedy DeMatteis, who is 16-0 with a 2.31 ERA. DeMatteis has whiffed 142 batters in 100 innings. She’s also hitting .685, with four homers and 35 RBI. Twin sister and catcher Kristina DeMatteis is batting .662 with 31 RBIs. The two have combined for 97 hits this season.

While the Lady Warriors have the big numbers, one thing they don’t have is experience and tradition. The Lady Mounties have four starter,s who will be making at least their third trip to the PIAAs. The Lady Mounties won titles in 2007 and 2011.

“The other night was actually my eighth time playing on Penn State’s field,” Frank said. “Knowing how many people are going to be there and knowing what to expect is so much nicer to prepare and help the younger girls understand what it is going to be like.”

P-O can put up some big numbers, too. Burge (.548) and Frank (.493) lead the team. Shortstop Haylee Hayward is hitting .459 with a team-leading five homers and 29 RBIs.

Frank, one of the team’s two seniors, says the entire team feels the sense of urgency she feels heading into her final PIAA Tournament.

“Playing since second grade, it’s very sad,” Frank said. “They know how bad I want it, but they want it just as bad. If we go out and play our hardest, I think we can make it to June 13 for the state finals.”

They’ve certainly seen it happen before for other teams. In 2012, Neshannock, the third place team from District 7, knocked off the Lady Mounties in extra innings in the opening round before winning the PIAA title.

“If we win four games, who’s going to remember that?,” Gonder said of the loss in the District 6 finals.

“It’s good to have a second chance,” Burge said. “It’s a sign. It’s a sign there’s something better.”