For years, Philipsburg-Osceola coach Jim Gonder tried in vain to find a way to get two District 6 teams into the PIAA Class AA brackets.
The reasoning was simple — District 6 played some of the best softball in the state and arguably the league title game was the real PIAA title game. Between 2002 and 2011, District 6 Class AA teams made the title game eight times and Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola won twice each.
But none of the ideas worked until numbers fell on the side of District 6.
And Monday, the Western finals in PIAA Class AA feature a clash between BEA and P-O, the two dominant programs over the last decade in Class AA.
Gonder takes some pride in seeing the matchup since he was sure some seasons two programs from District 6 deserved to be in the PIAA bracket. But unlike the WPIAL, in which three and four teams made the field, the sheer numbers of teams in District 6 didn’t add up.
“Obviously from the PIAA’s perspective, they do math,” Gonder explained. “It’s lots of math. … It’s just the way it is.”
Given the strength of the competition, Gonder tried to come up with alternatives to the bracket with stripping other Districts of berths.
“I was always in favor of expanding the bracket one more game which would have taken care of situations like that or adding six play-in games — doing something when you know you’ve got a team like that. But, the numbers worked out finally.”
And the numbers will mean something special Monday evening. An estimated crowd of 1,100 filled Nittany Lion Softball Park for the District 6 title game between the two Centre County rivals. An even bigger standing-room crowd is expected for Monday’s 5:30 p.m. clash.
“I’m glad he made it and I’m glad we made it,” BEA coach Curt Heverly said. “When has there been a bigger game around here in the last 10 or 15 years?”
“The last one was very big,” P-O catcher Haley Frank said of the District 6 clash. “I can’t even imagine how much bigger it can be. Everybody is talking about it. Everyone is taking off work. Everyone is switching appointments. Everybody is going.”
“Someone’s got to be noticing in the offices there in Harrisburg, ‘Whoa, I guess they follow their teams,’” Gonder said. “When they’re looking at the attendance, they’ve got to be thinking something is going on here.”
Players from both teams are amazed how their communities have rallied around the teams.
“There’s a lot of people talking to us,” P-O first baseman Kenzie Burge said. “I’ve had a lot of people I don’t know tell me good luck and how excited they are for the fourth Bald Eagle-P-O matchup. We’re really excited about this game.”
BEA sophmore catcher Morgan Nyman is stunned at getting the star treatment.
“I was eating out with my Gram and Pap today and a bunch of random people were coming up and saying, ‘Ah, you play for Bald Eagle, don’t you. We’re going to come to your game,’” Nyman said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they know me.’ It’s crazy.”
Gonder, who has coached more than 700 games at Philipsburg-Osceola, remembers what the first games were like.
“If I close my eyes and imagine this field, it was a grass infield,” he said from the dugout at Curtis Park. “There was a fence halfway around about two feet off the ground. There were no dugouts. There were white balls and wooden bats. You had five people over there (watching) and six over here and that was the parents.
“Things have definitely changed.”