By Lisa Byers
HARBORCREEK TOWNSHIP —
When the postseason rolls, the only teams that can finish the year off with a win are those left hoisting state championship trophies.
In softball, that’s four teams in Pennsylvania; four out of a total of 647 teams.
That is the message Saegertown head coach Mark McKissock left his team with on Monday afternoon following a heartbreaking 13-9 loss to Carmichaels in the opening round of the PIAA Class A state playoffs at Penn State Behrend.
“It stinks losing,” Saegertown senior pitcher Arianna Hanley said. “But like coach said, ‘Every team ends with a loss unless you’re state champs.’ I’m disappointed but I’m so proud of my girls because they didn’t give up.”
“We gave it our all,” fellow senior Courtney Lilly said. “We gave it our all.”
Saegertown had aspirations of being that team in the state title game at Penn State University on June 14 and toting the large gold trophy home at the end. But it just wasn’t the Panthers’ day yesterday.
The Panthers committed seven errors against the Mighty Mikes, who also collected 13 base hits. Saegertown had two errors in the first, third and fifth innings and one in the sixth. Carmichaels scored in each of those innings, including five each in the third and fifth frames.
It was the third inning that was pivotal.
Carmichaels took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Caroline Cree got things started for the Mighty Mikes with a one-out single. Morgan Berardi followed with a groundout to third base. The Panthers then threw to second to try to get Cree who had rounded the base a little too aggressively.
The throw was off the mark and Cree took off for third. The throw to third was high and over the glove of McKenna Morian allowing Cree to score.
Saegertown, which had seven errors in a 20-19 win over McMinn County (Tenn.) during their spring trip to Florida on March 29, didn’t stay down for long. The Panthers got that run back and one in the bottom half of the inning thanks to a two-run single by Morian, scoring Rachel DiBartolomeo and Hanley.
The Panthers added three more in the bottom of the second to take a 5-1 lead.
“Any time it’s the bottom of the second and you’re up 5-1 in a game like this, you’re thinking things are looking pretty good,” McKissock said. “But we had some miscues and things got out of hand and hitting is contagious.”
Carmichaels led off the third inning with three straight singles followed by an error and a hit batsman before the Panthers were able to record their first out. At that point the Mikes had pulled to within two (5-3).
Carmichaels tied it on a two-run error and took a 6-5 lead on an RBI groundout by Danielle McClellan. Saeger-town never led again.
“We just weren’t at the top of our game,” McKissock said. “And it was a bad day to not be at the top of our game because they hit the ball hard.”
The Mighty Mikes added five more runs in the fifth inning on an RBI double by Lindsey Osborne and two-run singles by Emma Lowry and Erica Burns.
The bright spot for the Panthers, though, was they refused to give up.
Saegertown came to the plate in the sixth inning trailing 13-5.
Junior Tori Eckart was set to lead off the inning. As she made her way to the plate, senior catcher Rachel DiBartolomeo, her voice wavering, encouraged Eckart.
“Get it started, Tori,” DiBartolomeo yelled from the dugout. “I believe in you. I believe in you.”
Eckart was hit by a pitch to give the Panthers a leadoff runner. Becca Siple followed with a single and Di-Bartolomeo came through with a drive to the fence in center field for a triple, scoring Eckart and Siple to pull the Panthers to within six (13-7).
DiBartolomeo scored on a groundout by Hanley and Lexi Palmer added another run when her drive to the warning track was dropped by the Mikes’ centerfielder and the throw to third got away, allowing her to score.
But that was it for the Panthers.
“You see errors, you make errors yourself,” Hanley said. “It’s hard to watch and I’m sure it’s hard for the fans to watch as well. But I think in the sixth inning we got past it and started hitting the ball like we should. It just came a little too late.”
The Panthers end their season at 17-4. And the careers of one of the most successful senior classes in program history also comes to a close.
“This is our third year with them (as a coaching staff),” McKissock said. “They’ve been successful at pretty much everything they have done as a group. This coaching staff just kind of stumbled into that.
“They are a great group of kids and we are going to miss them big time. It’s a special group without a doubt.”
The senior class hopes that it has left a positive and lasting impression on the underclassmen.
“Stay a family,” Lilly said.
“I told them I would be here next year to watch them kick butt,” Hanley said.
“I’m sure I’ll tag along,” Lilly added.
“They are a great group of girls,”Hanley said. “They all have great personalities. They are great people. And love softball. I know that is going to take them far.”