Four PIAA state tournament berths. Three District championship game appearances. And three championship caliber performances. The final week of the District playoffs — and final week before the playing field gets a whole lot wider — held more than its fair share of excitement for L-L softball teams and fans.
Here are some thoughts on the past week of softball action.
Winning is difficult. Winning year in and year out is darn near impossible.
Which is why Donegal’s third-straight trip to the District 3 finals and second consecutive Triple-A championship is difficult to fathom.
That’s not to say the Indians aren’t expected to compete, or that their wins come as a surprise. It’s just that other teams in the league play just as hard and have comparable talent across the board, yet Donegal always seems to prevail this time of year.
Part of it is experience. Part of it is tradition. But other teams have that, too.
“You know what, it’s a lot of pressure,” said Indians’ head coach Wayne Emenheiser, in his sixth season at the helm. “People don’t realize how much pressure is on high school kids to perform. I don’t think they take it that way too much, but sometimes I think they do feel… like when they lost to L-S a couple times this year, I think they felt that pressure.
“Everybody is thinking, ‘well, you’re supposed to win every game.’ It doesn’t work that way; you have to play and you’re playing good competition. Every day you have to show up and I think our kids are getting to that point. They love this time of year, they love when it gets warm, we’re traveling in buses to nice fields to play, it’s a lot of fun. We’re very fortunate.”
Fortunate enough to have played in eight District 3 title games in an eleven-year span, winning three times. The Indians won in 2006 before going on to lose in 2007 and 2008. They lost back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
But now the Indians are on an up-tick even by their standards. And there’s little reason to doubt they can make a run next year with the return of this season’s gifted junior class that includes four three-year starters. That doesn’t even factor-in the annual influx of sophomores and freshman contributors, with the Mount Joy area being the conveyer belt of softball tools and talent that it is.
And although a district title may have seemed a bit less likely this season with the likes of Lampeter-Strasburg, Penn Manor, and Hempfield running the L-L show, Donegal just finds a way.
“We’re going to let them enjoy it tonight for sure,” Emenheiser said after upsetting the Pioneers in the semifinals. “Tomorrow in practice we’ll practice hard but it’ll be light, we won’t get stressed out or anything. The biggest thing is you’re there.
“There’s nothing I’m going to teach you tomorrow in practice (that you don’t already know). You’ve all played this big game before, you just have to show up to play.”
Which is what the Indians always do. Year-in-and-year out.
Meanwhile, Penn Manor was playing in its first-ever Quad-A Championship game on Thursday. And Pequea Valley returned to the Double-A finals following a 1-0 upset of Berks County power Brandywine Heights, the team that beat the Braves for the 2013 title.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” said Amy Shay, in her 16th season leading the Braves. “I’d say the last half of the season we really came alive and started to make things happen. And in particular the last game against Brandywine Heights, the kids had the best defensive game of the season.”
While the Braves dropped the championship to Kutztown, 2-0, there’s nothing negative to say even after being no-hit on Thursday.
“I think you know you have to score one run no matter what to win,” Shay said of the unorthodox loss. “I mean if you can’t score one, you’re either going to be playing a long game, or (lose it).”
Having been defeated 1-0 in ten innings Thursday, Penn Manor managed both outcomes. But again, getting there is the part that matters. As the Indians will attest, that’s how dynasties — if we’ll consent to throw the “dynasty” word around — are built.
PIAA STATE PREVIEW (all first-round games slated for Monday)
DISTRICT 3 AAAA RUNNER-UP PENN MANOR versus District 2 champion HAZLETON at Wilkes University, 5 p.m.
Ranked No. 14 in the state according to MaxPreps.com, the Hazleton Cougars (20-1) are riding a 20-game win streak, besting Williamsport 2-0 in the District 2 Quad-A championship game behind senior pitcher Celine Podlesney’s four-hitter.
Aside from Podlesney (16-1, 0.90 era), the Cougars are led by junior infielder Megan Trivelpiece (0.433, 11 doubles, 18 runs, 19 RBI) and junior catcher Hope Kinney (0.394, 3 HR, 18 RBI), as well as speedsters in sophomore outfielder Rebecca Rossi (0.386, 22 runs, 31-for-31 stolen bases) and senior shortstop Mack Yori (0.361, 18 runs, 17-for-18 stolen bases).
OUTLOOK: Stats go out the window this time of year. The only things to keep in mind are that then District 3 runner-up Daniel Boone defeated Hazelton 1-0 in last year’s first round, and that the Comets (22-4) are seeking a second-straight trip to the state quarters. That being said, this game has all the makings of a classic in a season that has had its fair share of them in Millersville.
DISTRICT 3 AAA THIRD-PLACE LAMPETER-STRASBURG versus District 1 champion VILLA MARIA ACADEMY at Springford High School, 4 p.m.
The top-seeded team in the District 1 bracket, Villa Maria (18-2) lived up to its billing in the championship game, defeating Bishop Shanahan 8-2. In the game, senior pitcher Maddie Abbot broke the career strikeout record among Triple-A schools, surpassing the old record by three with 760.
That, of course, is only significant because her counterpart for the Pioneers, Jordan Weaver, recently broke 700 career K’s herself and is essentially right on Abbot’s heels. Be that as it may, the challenge for the Lampeter-Strasburg will be causing a bit of offensive havoc early against Abbot while simultaneously holding down a dynamic Hurricanes’ lineup.
OUTLOOK: While a win by the Pioneers (23-2) would technically be considered an upset, there’s no question L-S matches up. This game could go a hundred different ways, all of them suspenseful.
DISTRICT 3 AAA CHAMPION DONEGAL versus District 12 runner-up NUEVA ESPERANZA at Lebanon Valley College, 3:30 p.m.
Esperanza Academy, a team out of the Philadelphia Public League, fell to Archbishop Wood 13-1 in the District 12 title game.
For what it’s worth, Donegal upended Frankford Academy by a 15-0 count in four innings last season in a matchup versus the then District 12 runner-up.
OUTLOOK: Last year’s first-round game was noteworthy for the fact that it was suspended two days due to rain, potentially derailing Donegal’s shot at a state-title run. Also noteworthy was the third-base umpire’s willingness to call the game based on the fine print in the bottom of the rule-book. Hopefully, this year’s first rounder goes a little smoother for both the Toros and the Indians (20-5).
DISTRICT 3 AA RUNNER-UP PEQUEA VALLEY versus District 12 champion CONWELL-EGAN at Arcadia University, 2 p.m.
Conwell-Egan comes in having won five-straight District 12 AA titles, taking this year’s crown 5-3 over Philadelphia Academy Charter. The Eagles (9-12) are paced by senior pitcher Alexis Gartner, first-team All-Catholic League catcher in junior Tori McCoach, and third-team All-Catholic League infielder in senior Brittany Porter.
OUTLOOK: The Braves (16-7) last faced the Eagles in 2013, dropping an 8-1 decision. But it appears to be a waning dynasty for Conwell-Egan, and a rising one for Pequea Valley, which will be looking to vent some frustration after Thursday’s disappointment.