At the start of the season, State College coach Bill Tussey gathered his team to write down a few team goals.
Winning the state championship tops the list.
“We don’t talk about it too much, but we all know what the end goal is,” senior outfielder Caleb Walls said.
The list is posted in the dugout throughout the season as the Little Lions work toward the ultimate goal. They captured the District 6 Class AAAA championship with a 6-3 win over Altoona and beat DuBois 9-4 last week to earn a spot in the PIAA Class AAAA tournament. State College opens the state playoffs with a first-round game against Norwin at 4 p.m. Monday at Hollidaysburg High School.
Bellefonte takes on West Allegheny in a PIAA Class AAA first-round game at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Philipsburg-Osceola. The Red Raiders are coming off a 2-1 win over Somerset in the district title game.
Tussey said his teams have often made the state championship a goal.
They’re now in position to make a run at that goal.
“The reality is we have a good ballclub,” Tussey said. “And it’s a team that if we play our game, who knows? Any time you set goals, it’s just a matter of focus and that’s what we’re really looking at — get ‘em focused on the prize.
“Maybe we run into a hot pitcher or run into a hot team and then it’s over because it’s single (elimination).”
State College (18-5) is hot heading into the state tournament.
The Little Lions are riding a nine-game winning streak into Monday. Their last loss was April 29.
Norwin is coming off a 2-0 loss to Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game last Wednesday.
Norwin’s John Driggers threw back-to-back shutouts to lead his team past North Allegheny in the first round and Mt. Lebanon in the quarterfinals. Nick Amendola then fired a three-hit shutout in the Knights’ semifinal victory over Bethel Park.
Driggers went 61/3 innings in the loss to Central Catholic in the championship game.
The Little Lions have relied on pitching, defense and timely hitting to keep their season rolling.
That combination propelled State College to its third straight district title in its victory over Altoona. The Little Lions used a four-run sixth inning and got 32/3 scoreless innings of relief from Oliver Dailey and Bailey Ishler in the win.
“The final goal is the state championship and this is just a little segment,” State College’s Chris Boal said after the district title game. “This is the first step in achieving that.”
The Little Lions then knocked off DuBois thanks to two four-run innings in a PIAA play-in game.
Ishler pitched the final inning to seal the win.
“It was nice to be able to get Bailey that one inning work,” Tussey said. “That’s really kind of why we did it. It was an opportunity to give him a bullpen if you will. With a five-run lead, we were comfortable to put him out there and just let him work.”
Tussey will have options on the mound Monday.
Tussey said Ishler, Dailey and Kyle Peterson are all healthy. Ishler started the PIAA opener last year and Peterson started the district championship game last week.
The experience can be found throughout the roster as the Little Lions make their third straight trip to the state tournament.
“We have a lot of senior starters who have been there before,” Walls said. “We got a senior pitching staff and we got a lot of good pitchers that we can use and we’ll make a run for it.”