Just two years after the Fannett-Metal softball team won the PIAA Class 1A championship, the Tigers were without a skipper. 

They had proceeded their state championship season with a successful regular-season slate, but fell short in the first round of the District 5 playoffs in 2013. And with players from the championship squad dwindling, the once-flourishing Fannett-Metal softball team was in trouble. 

But just a few seasons later, a new crop of championship hopefuls are climbing the ranks in a red and white Lady Tigers uniform -- all thanks to Michael DeAngelo. 

Much like the fresh group of players he inherited when he took over as the Fannett-Metal head coach in 2014, DeAngelo was also a rookie with little coaching experience. 

But surrounded by a talented coaching staff, and a host of dedicated players, DeAngelo led the Tigers to their first winning season since 2013, and their first district playoff win since the 2012 state finals. 

He is the Public Opinion Softball Coach of the Year. 

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"My first season I think there were three players remaining from that (state championship) team, so some had been there before, but by my second season I had mostly underclassmen in starting roles," DeAngelo said. "We got some younger kids some experience to execute our game plan."

Fannett-Metal won just eight games through those first two seasons, but that experience was invaluable to the now-leaders of the F-M Tigers. 

"I think that first season we sort of underachieved, but the first year it’s difficult to do things how you want to do them," DeAngelo said. "But coming in to this year, we knew this team would be successful. I thought it even before the season started, but I think the players needed to believe in themselves a little bit."

Last year Fannett-Metal won nine games -- literally tripling its win total from 2015. And the Tigers picked up where they left off and went 8-1 to start the 2017 season. 

And surprisingly, it took a two-game losing skid for the team to really hit its stride. 

"After we lost two in a row we had a meeting to emphasize some things and focus on our mental toughness," DeAngelo said. "We came out and beat Everett (the top 3A team in District 5 at the time) and turned around to win four more. That was a turning point in our season."

Through his coaching philosophy, DeAngelo stresses mental toughness in all aspects of the game, and used that as a tool to keep the team focused when opponents began to put a target on their back through the season's success. 

"I spend almost nine months with these girls (as a math teacher and helping with the girls basketball team) and seeing them grow in as individuals, and their attitude and mental toughness is amazing," DeAngelo said. "Being around them so much allows me to ensure they’re getting the right message across and bringing it on to the athletic field. They’re just the most enjoyable people on and off the field."

And although Fannett-Metal fell short in an extra-inning game against Shanksville in the D5 semifinals, DeAngelo believes that the team has no regrets. 

"You can ask anyone of the team, despite the fact that we didn’t win a championship, the success from this year left the program with a solid foundation," DeAngelo said. 

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