High School Sports

Tara Baney driving Bellefonte softball into PIAA quarterfinals

Bellefonte’s Jenna Ault, left, celebrates with Tara Baney after making a diving catch for a foul ball in the District 6 Championship game on June 1. Baney, pitcher and lead-off hitter, is leading the Red Raiders as they take on Yough (19-3) on Thursday at Mount Aloysius College in the quarterfinals of PIAA Class AAA playoffs.
Bellefonte’s Jenna Ault, left, celebrates with Tara Baney after making a diving catch for a foul ball in the District 6 Championship game on June 1. Baney, pitcher and lead-off hitter, is leading the Red Raiders as they take on Yough (19-3) on Thursday at Mount Aloysius College in the quarterfinals of PIAA Class AAA playoffs. Centre Daily Times, file

When Sue Baney and her husband sit in the bleachers, watching every pitch hit the mitt, they can’t help themselves.

They’re nervous, intrigued and eager. Even a little concerned.

It’s tough to really explain.

“I can’t even describe how we feel,” Sue said.

Though she can’t quite put her finger on it, the feeling is one Sue and her husband are familiar with.

Their daughter, Tara, is a star for Bellefonte softball. She’s the ace pitcher and leadoff hitter for the Lady Red Raiders, a team getting ready to compete in the quarterfinals of PIAA Class AAA playoffs.

And if Bellefonte (17-5) is going to advance to the semifinals, it’ll likely need another signature performance out of Baney against Yough (19-3) on Thursday at Mount Aloysius College.

With two no-hitters in the circle and multiple home runs at the plate, Baney, a junior, has turned heads this season.

But her success is, at times, a little surreal for her parents.

“It’s hard to believe sometimes that it’s our little girl out there,” Sue said.

Still, Baney’s parents aren’t necessarily surprised by her achievements. For years, they’ve seen someone determined to thrive — determined to win.

“It’s awesome just to watch her,” Sue said. “You can tell she’s committed to the game.”

So can her coach, Fred Caldwell.

Caldwell, in his second season with Bellefonte, started a strength and conditioning program for his players. It took place in the fall and winter, and was totally optional.

“Tara really bought into it,” Caldwell said. “It paid off. It’s paying dividends now.”

Caldwell said he’s seen Baney mature, getting physically stronger since last season.

That power is apparent when you hear the catcher’s mitt pop — Baney throws gas, and it’s difficult for batters to keep up.

In the PIAA first round against Mt. Pleasant, Baney struck out six, a relatively low number for her.

In the District 6 title game against Bellwood-Antis, she struck out 11, normally par for the course.

I have absolute confidence that Tara can keep us in most games with her arm. She’s done an outstanding job all year.

Bellefonte softball coach Fred Caldwell

“Not really,” Caldwell said when asked if Baney’s performances surprise him anymore. “I have absolute confidence that Tara can keep us in most games with her arm. She’s done an outstanding job all year.”

She’s also no slouch in the batter’s box. Baney hit a solo home run in the game’s first at-bat against Mt. Pleasant, and jolted two homers in Bellefonte’s District 6 semifinal win over Huntingdon.

In fact, Baney was the Lady Red Raiders’ No. 3 hitter for most of the season. Only recently did Caldwell move her into the leadoff spot.

Why? Teams were intentionally walking or pitching around her too much.

“We moved her to leadoff to kind of force the issue,” the coach said. “We have other good hitters, so if a team wants to put her on base, we’ll take that and take our chances with the rest of the lineup behind her.”

Not a bad play, considering the rest of the lineup. Alexis Wetzler and Rianna Trexler in the No. 3 and 4 spots, along with several others create a lineup with options — something Caldwell will welcome on Thursday.

Yough, the No. 3 seed out of District 7, won the WPIAL’s third-place consolation game to reach the PIAA tournament, and hasn’t wasted its chance so far. On Monday, the Lady Cougars ousted District 10 champion General McLane 11-1.

Caldwell isn’t scared. He thinks his Lady Red Raiders are up to task.

“We’ve faced tough competition,” the coach said, citing District 6’s strength. “We don’t get a lot of easy games. It forces them to bring their best every game.”

And way more often than not, that’s what Baney has done this year.

Rarely does she miss her spots, and it’s not often she wastes at-bats.

Baney’s mother, after watching her grow so much on the diamond in recent years, has a reasoning behind that.

“When she’s on that mound, she knows her team is behind her,” Sue said. “The girls are family. They know how to help each other.

“They’re there for support, and you can see that.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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