High School Sports

Philipsburg-Osceola softball confident entering PIAA quarterfinals

Philipsburg-Osceola’s Chelsea Henry hits a double during the District 6 AA semifinal game against Ligonier Valley. P-O will face South Park (15-4) at 4 p.m. Thursday at Somerset High School in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Philipsburg-Osceola’s Chelsea Henry hits a double during the District 6 AA semifinal game against Ligonier Valley. P-O will face South Park (15-4) at 4 p.m. Thursday at Somerset High School in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals. Centre Daily Times, file

Philipsburg-Osceola softball coach Jim Gonder is still in awe of what happened Monday.

“It was unbelievable,” the coach said.

Down two runs in the bottom of the seventh, P-O’s senior duo of Haylee Hayward and Chelsey Henry hit back-to-back home runs to knot it up.

In the eighth, Hayward crushed one to the centerfield fence to score the game-winning run against Steel Valley in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs.

Now as the Lady Mounties head into the quarterfinals, Gonder thinks the comeback can bring an added sense of self-assurance.

I’m hoping the girls realized that no matter what the score, there’s always a chance of coming back.

Philipsburg-Osceola softball coach Jim Gonder

“I’m hoping the girls realized that no matter what the score, there’s always a chance of coming back,” Gonder said.

We’ll see if the Lady Mounties have to employ that resilience in the second round.

P-O (21-2) squares off with South Park (15-4), the No. 2 seed out of District 7, at 4 p.m. Thursday at Somerset High School. The Lady Eagles fell to Ellwood City in the WPIAL title game 10-0 in five innings last week.

But that didn’t deter them. Instead, South Park thrashed District 10 champion and previously undefeated Northwestern 16-4 in the first round of states on Monday.

“I like to think our confidence level is there,” South Park coach Larry Mercurio said.

The Lady Eagles made quick work of Northwestern, scoring seven runs in the first inning. And at one point this season, South Park had a four-game winning streak in which it averaged 17.25 runs per game.

Yes, 17.25.

“We’re a hitting team, and an aggressive team,” the Lady Eagles coach said.

No kidding.

So who will face South Park in the circle? Gonder said he’s not sure yet.

He could go with Kam Harris, the freshman who dominated the District 6 title game, but allowed five runs to Steel Valley in four innings of work. Her replacement, junior Maggie Peck, who shut down Steel Valley in the final three innings, is another option.

Either way, Mercurio isn’t overly concerned with who’s pitching.

“We really try to prepare ourselves for ourselves,” the South Park coach said. “Certainly not to downplay any of the teams we’re up against by any means, but we’re only concerned with the things we can control.”

Like Mercurio, Gonder is upbeat about his team’s potential to advance.

Sure, P-O made four errors in the first-round win, but Gonder called that an aberration.

“I totally expect them to play much better defense,” he said.

And at the plate? The Lady Mounties have plenty of firepower to keep up with South Park.

Especially in their No. 3 and 4 hitters.

Hayward and Henry, the team’s only seniors, have been reliable leaders for the Lady Mounties throughout the year. Gonder has spoken highly of the duo on several occasions.

But not to be forgotten is their ability in the batter’s box. Henry and Hayward were Mountain League first-team all-stars, and both are capable of launching one over the outfield wall.

That much was made clear on Monday.

And it’s that kind of power and prowess that generates quite a buzz heading into Thursday’s quarterfinals matchup.

“It gives the coaches a lot of confidence,” Gonder said of Hayward and Henry’s power, “and it obviously gives the girls a lot of confidence, too.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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