Saegertown was flying high.
After the first month of the season, the Lady Panthers softball team was a perfect 13-0 and had outscored its opponents by an average of 10.2 runs per game.
The Panthers looked invincible.
But on May 1, Maplewood took exception and handed its PENNCREST School District rival its first loss of the season. Just two days later, Saegertown suffered its second loss to its other interdistrict rival, Cambridge Springs.
“It made us go soul searching,” Saegertown coach Mark McKissock said. “I think it was a good thing at a good time. We found out we weren’t bulletproof.”
So the Lady Panthers dug a little deeper. And each and every player “got progressively better and came into their own,” McKissock said.
Now the District 10 champion Lady Panthers, who won their first state playoff game in program history on Tuesday, are just two wins away from the PIAA Class A championship game.
“We have a bunch of overachievers,” McKissock said. “We have players who are just gamers. They love the game of softball. They’re oblivious to the pressure. They just go out there and play the game.”
Being able to withstand pressure could be a key factor today when the Lady Panthers take on WPIAL champion Chartiers-Houston in the state quarterfinals at North Allegheny High School. First pitch is scheduled for noon.
The Buccaneers are 24-1. They have scored in double digits in 19 contests and have 17 shutouts. They are averaging 11 runs per game and have allowed an average of just one run per contest.
“I did see that,” McKissock said. “But that was then and this is now. Maybe we’re the underdogs. We’re OK with that. You still have to field it, throw it and catch it.”
Chartiers-Houston hasn’t been quite as dominant in the postseason. The Buccaneers won their first two WPIAL playoff games handily, but have outscored their opponents by a total of seven runs their last three contests.
Their most recent win came against Brockway in the first round of the state playoffs by a score of 4-0.
The Buccaneers are led by junior pitcher Kayla Briggs, who has pitched three no-hitters. Going into the WPIAL title game against Carmichaels, Briggs had 183 strikeouts.
They are led offensively by senior shortstop and cleanup hitter Rachel Tucker. Tucker is batting .640.
McKissock, now in his second year as the head coach at Saegertown, has some history with Chartiers-Houston. McKissock was the head coach at Cambridge Springs when the Blue Devils topped the Buccaneers in a thriller — 4-3 in eight innings back in 2007 during the PIAA Class A quarterfinals.
Annie Wilson scored the winning run for the Devils the unconventional way. Wilson struck out, but reached base when the catcher dropped the ball and overthrew first base, allowing Wilson to move into scoring position. Wilson advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored when the throw to third got by the third baseman.
“I think I remember,” McKissock said, when asked about his last meeting with the Buccaneers. “I think it was 2007. ... Didn’t they commit a lot of errors?”
Indeed. The Buccaneers committed eight errors in the game and several were caused by the pressure Cambridge Springs put on the defense. Expect nothing less from the McKissock-led Panthers.
Saegertown (20-2) is batting .378 as a team this season with eight of its nine starters hitting over .300. Catcher Rachel DiBartolomeo leads the Panthers at .532 with five triples and a home run.
Shortstop Belle Mazurik is batting .449 with 31 RBIs and 12 doubles. Hallie Kirdahy is next with a .437 average with a team-best 34 RBIs along with seven doubles.
Pitcher Arianna Hanley is batting .398 with four triples, two home runs and 28 RBIs.
Hanley has made 20 starts on the mound and has thrown 130 innings. She has an earned run average of 1.99, has struck out 108 and walked 26.