High School Sports

Philipsburg-Osceola makes dramatic comeback in PIAA softball opener

Third baseman Haylee Hayward leads the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team in a pre-game huddle before their first PIAA playoff game against Steel Valley High School at Beard Field on Monday, June 6, 2016.
Third baseman Haylee Hayward leads the Philipsburg-Osceola softball team in a pre-game huddle before their first PIAA playoff game against Steel Valley High School at Beard Field on Monday, June 6, 2016. nthomas@centredaily.com

Want a little drama with your softball?

How about this: Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning of Monday night’s PIAA first-round game, Philipsburg-Osceola got back-to-back solo home runs from the “Bash Sisters” — Haylee Hayward and Chelsey Henry — to draw even with Steel Valley.

Want some more drama? In the bottom of the eighth inning with two on and none out, Hayward drove an 0-1 pitch over centerfielder Vernoica Sikora’s head to drive in Maggie Peck to complete an improbable 6-5 comeback to move the Lady Mounties into the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Want some more drama? Call Steven Spielberg. Because it would take a Hollywood script writer to come up with something more nerve-rattling than this game.

“My heart can’t take any more of this,” said P-O coach Jim Gonder as he came into the media room. “This is the best comeback I’ve ever been involved in in this kind of setting. I’m without words. There is just something special about this team.”

It didn’t fit that description in the early going as the Lady Ironmen slowly built a 5-0 lead against starter Kam Harris, with the defense behind her committing three errors that contributed to four of Steel Valley’s five runs.

After nicking Harris for a run in the top of the first, Steel Valley added a pair in the third when the Lady Mounties committed a pair of errors on routine plays as Kylie Thal and Hayward collided going after pop-up in foul territory only to have the batter, Maddie Cotter, get aboard on an error. Two batters later, Maggie Peck mishandled a slow roller to first. The miscues staked Steel Valley to a 3-0 lead.

In the fourth, a single by Milan Harris, a double by Morgan Farrah and a single by Krista Bayus boosted the Lady Ironmen into a 5-0 cushion.

“I’ll be honest, we didn’t play good defense,” Gonder said. “Four errors and 12 hits, that’s 16 base runners.”

After that inning, Gonder made the move that Steel Valley coach Matt Janov said swung the game in P-O’s direction as Peck came in to replace Harris.

“I thought the game turned when they brought in the other pitcher,” Janov said. “We had 12 hits after five innings. If we had been able to tack on a few more runs in the sixth and seventh it would have helped.”

Instead, Peck kept Steel Valley, which was making its first playoff appearance in school history, in check, giving her team a chance to work its way back into the game.

“Maggie’s got a devastating changeup and it’s a good complement to Kam,” Gonder said.

P-O got a pair of runs in the fourth as Jade Burge worked Cotter for a walk and scored on a triple to right-center by Madison Lucas, who scored on the first of Hannah Thompson’s two doubles.

“Hannah was clutch tonight,” Gonder said.

The Lady Mounties scored again in the sixth when Lucas drew a walk and scored on Thompson’s double just inside the left field line to make it 5-3.

That set the stage for the seventh-inning dramatics.

Hayward led off by driving a 1-2 pitch off the scoreboard in left field. Henry followed by hitting the first pitch she saw over the fence just to the right of the scoreboard.

“We always come back,” Henry said. “Obviously I felt the pressure. I just wanted to hit a ground ball, get on base and have one of my teammates drive me in. I wasn’t even thinking of a home run. But Haylee and I have hit back-to-back home runs before. We’ve hit grand slams in the same game before.”

But not on a stage as big as this one.

After Peck retired the side in order in the top of the eighth, Cotter walked Peck to open the bottom of the inning and Thal bounced a single through the infield to bring up Hayward. She responded by crushing an 0-1 pitch to the base of the fence in center to score Peck and complete the comeback.

Prior to her at-bat, the P-O coaching staff huddled, trying to decide whether to have Hayward bunt or swing away.

“I said, ‘Jeez guys, let her swing away,” Gonder said.

Good call.

“I just wanted to find a pitch and drive it,” Hayward said. “I just wanted to make contact. I didn’t know if she would catch it but it felt good coming off the bat.”

I just wanted to make contact. I didn’t know if she would catch it but it felt good coming off the bat.

Haylee Hayward

“Haylee has been spectacular all year,” Henry said. “there’s no one else I would want up there.”

Neither would Gonder.

“Those two seniors just ripped the ball,” Gonder said of Hayward and Henry. “I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

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