After weeks of district play, three Centre County softball teams are poised to make runs at a state title.
Philipsburg-Osceola, Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte all take the field Monday, looking to advance past the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
Last time out, the Lady Mounties defeated the Lady Eagles in the District 6 Class AA championship game, and the Lady Red Raiders claimed the Class AAA title over Bellwood-Antis.
Now, BEA and Bellefonte travel to the Pittsburgh suburbs, while P-O stays close to home.
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Regardless of where they’re at, though, the trio will need its top performance to move on.
Let’s see what lies ahead for P-O, BEA and Bellefonte.
P-O (20-2) vs. Steel Valley (15-6)
Where: Penn State’s Beard Field
When: 7 p.m.
The breakdown: Less than a week ago, the Lady Mounties celebrated a district championship under the lights at Penn State’s softball field.
Could they channel a similar energy in their return?
P-O squares off with Steel Valley, the No. 3 seed out of District 7. Steel Valley lost to Ellwood City in the WPIAL semifinals, then defeated Laurel in a third-place consolation game to qualify for the state tournament.
After seeing the raucous P-O cheering section at Beard Field for Wednesday’s district final, the Lady Mounties will more than likely have a home-field advantage.
That only adds to the buzz surrounding the Lady Mounties.
“I think they’re motivated,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said. “I think the kids are excited about being able to play in front of another large crowd.”
That being said, don’t expect the Lady Mounties to get too caught up with emotion. Gonder said the district title celebration ended that same night, and his team practiced the next day.
P-O is focused — and on a roll. Behind stellar pitching from Kam Harris and a pair of senior leaders in Haylee Hayward and Chelsey Henry, the Lady Mounties are on a 12-game winning streak.
And when asked if P-O could make a deep run in the state tournament, Gonder sounded optimistic.
“I like our chances every time we play,” the coach said. “We would like to go as far as possible, and obviously bring home that ultimate prize. But we’ve got to win (Monday) first.”
BEA (15-5) vs. Ellwood City (20-0)
Where: North Allegheny High School
When: 2 p.m.
The breakdown: The Lady Eagles rode a four-game winning streak into the district title game, defeated Central three times this season, and even handed P-O one of its two losses on the year.
But BEA’s biggest challenge yet is still upcoming.
The Lady Eagles face Ellwood City, the undefeated District 7 champion.
The Lady Wolverines have a penchant for scoring runs, and a lot of them. Ellwood City averages 11.05 runs per game, and won the WPIAL title by throttling South Park 10-0 in five innings on Friday.
BEA coach Don Lucas knows his team won’t have it easy.
“At this point in the season, everybody you play is going to be pretty good,” Lucas said. “You don’t just get to the final 16 teams left in the state … It’s going to be a tough contest for us, but we all look forward to getting back out there and playing.”
It’ll be BEA’s first game since losing in the district championship to P-O.
But Lucas said the loss isn’t weighing on any of the players’ minds.
Instead, the Lady Eagles’ first practice after the loss was a positive one, and the coach thinks that BEA’s leadership played a large role in that stabilization.
Eight current Lady Eagles were on the roster in 2014 when BEA won the District 6 title and reached the state semifinals — a level of experience Lucas feels can pay dividends.
“You have to have a short memory, and you have to be able to go again,” Lucas said. “You’re one and done. If you can’t put things behind you, it’s going to be a long game.
“But I don’t sense that. I feel that we’re ready to go.”
Bellefonte (16-5) vs. Mount Pleasant (13-5)
Where: North Allegheny High School
When: 4 p.m.
The breakdown: Following BEA on the same field will be Centre County counterpart Bellefonte.
The Lady Red Raiders find themselves in the Class AAA state tournament after an exhilarating 2-1 win in extra innings over Bellwood-Antis in the district final on Wednesday.
But they’re not alone when it comes to winning in style.
Mt. Pleasant won its first-ever District 7 championship on Friday, pummeling West Allegheny 10-0.
It’s been an improbable run for Mt. Pleasant — it started the WPIAL tournament as the No. 12 seed — but it has the bats to back up its legitimacy. The Vikings had 16 hits in their district title game, putting an end to West Allegheny’s 16-game winning streak.
The Lady Red Raiders will need to score runs, but more importantly, get another solid outing from Tara Baney.
Baney, a junior, has been sensational in the circle for Bellefonte, her resume highlighted by two no-hitters this season alone.
In the district semifinals against Huntingdon she had 12 strikeouts, and against Bellwood-Antis she struck out 11.
Perhaps she can do the same against Mt. Pleasant.