Lady Mountie softball looking for more success|
Saturday, March 23, 2013
By Rich Murawski Assistant Sports Editor
PHILIPSBURG - After falling to eventual Class AA state champion Neshannock in extra innings in the first round of the PIAA Tournament last year, the three-time defending District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola softball team returns nearly intact for the 2013 campaign.
That has 30th-year head coach Jim Gonder very optimistic about the season.
"We're coming back as a team who lost in extra innings to the eventual state champ," he said. "A couple of breaks here or there ... we feel that we have a very competitive team coming back.
"But we also know there are a lot of other competitive teams in our league and in our district."
P-O welcomes back nine letterwinners for what it hopes is a return trip to the D-6 title game and beyond, but will be without a pair of them for most or all of the season.
Senior Chelsea Brown will be sidelined with an injury until early- to mid-May, while sophomore Morgan Williamson has a shoulder ailment that will keep her off the field the entire season.
But the Lady Mounties still have quite an arsenal among their returning letterwinners in seniors Kate Burge, Carly Gonder, Aisha Goss and Makayla Myers, junior Haley Frank and sophomores Kenzie Burge and Abby Showers.
Kate Burge is back in the circle after a 19-5 junior year and has battery mate and three-year starter Gonder once again giving her a target behind the plate.
Burge recorded 179 strikeouts, while giving up just 44 walks over 153 innings of work. She fired seven shutouts, including no-hitters against Juniata, Cambria Heights and Marion Center. The Lady Mountie ace also provided a big bat in the middle of the lineup with a .355 average, while scoring 23 runs and knocking in 22.
Gonder hit .330 as a junior after a torrid sophomore season that saw her average .409. She had nine doubles and stole six bases, while scoring 25 times and collecting 15 RBIs.
Both played key roles on P-O's 2011 state title team and each has a chance to reach the 100-hit milestone this season.
"The fact that we have our pitcher and our catcher back is a big deal," Gonder said. "Kate's physically stronger this year. She worked out as far as getting herself in shape over the offseason. And I've seen an increase in her spins and her speed.
"And this is Carly's third year behind the plate, so she should be pretty solid for us. And the infield is all back besides having a new third baseman."
Returning to first base, second base and shortstop to provide their pitcher a formidable defense is Kenzie Burge, Myers and Showers, respectively.
"We hope our defense is ahead of the game this year," Gonder said. "We were a little inexperienced last year. We didn't know what Kenzie Burge or Abby Showers were going to do. They proved to be very good infielders."
Burge hit .400 as a freshman with 25 runs scored and 21 RBIs, and classmate Showers batted .347 with 24 runs and 16 RBIs. Each belted five doubles, and Showers picked up a team-high 10 stolen bases.
Moving into the third base position is freshman Haylee Hayward, who is taking over for Frank because of the need for the Lady Mountie junior to roam the outfield.
The injuries to Brown and Williamson as well as the loss of Katie Carpin and Kayla Wisor to graduation leave some question marks in the outfield.
"We lost two really good outfielders in Katie Carpin and Kayla Wisor," Gonder said. "We have to replace that, so we're moving Haley Frank out there.
"She played there as a freshman. She has some experience out there, and we needed that. We want to make sure we develop a good outfield."
Joining Frank in the outfield is Goss, who split time between left field and designated player a season ago. Goss hit .375 in 2012 and had 21 RBIs.
The final outfield position, as well as the designated player, is a battle between junior Tiffani Wagner, sophomore Megan Bainey and freshmen Alyssa Shedlock and Chelsey Henry.
"Those four girls will be vying for two hitting positions," Gonder said. "It may be by committee the first 15 games of the year. After that, it will go by who's producing."
Gonder is hoping his newcomers can provide the kind of stability in the field that he got from last year's freshman class.
"We have a very solid team," he said. "Our concern is what our outfield is going to do and how some of the young kids are going to perform. Abby and Kenzie met the challenge last year, and we think we have freshmen this year that can do the same thing."
The top of the Lady Mounties lineup will look a lot like it did last year with Gonder leading off and Frank hitting in the two-hole, with the two Burges to follow. Showers and Goss will bat fifth and sixth.
"We're not a physically big team, but the girls are pretty quick and pretty strong," Gonder said. "I would hope we hit a lot of doubles. We might not hit a lot of home runs. There's some potential, but I think we're more of a gap-hitting team."
P-O will not field a jayvee team this season as it had just 18 girls on the roster and decided to send a couple to the junior high team, instead of trying to play varsity and junior varsity contests with just nine on each team.
"We probably could have (played jayvee)," Gonder said. "We had 18 kids, but we wouldn't have been able to do what we wanted to with the varsity. So I gave the girls the option to play games with the junior high. Four of the girls chose to play junior high."
Gonder was also concerned how an injury or sickness to his varsity would impact the jayvee schedule as he would need to pull girls up and likely cancel junior varsity games.
"That's not fair to the other teams," he said. "We just decided it wasn't fair to the other team or our teams."
Members of Gonder's coaching staff include Jerry Watson, Doug Myers, Steve Shedlock, Steve Frank, Mike Ammerman, Brian Wood and Joe Shedlock.
The Lady Mounties once again compete in the rock-solid Mountain League, which boasts four of the previous eight Double-A state champs, and has had a representative in the title game seven times in that span.
P-O and Bald Eagle Area each have two titles, while Central, Penns Valley and Clearfield are also teams to watch this year, according to Gonder.
"Our league is competitive. It's a great league," he said.
The Lady Dragons were the runners-up to P-O for the District 6 title in 2012, and Gonder thinks they'll be in the mix again, along with several Mountain League schools and teams from other leagues like Ligonier Valley and Penn Cambria.
"It's a challenge. You can't have an off-day in District 6 playoffs," he said. "Whoever has the chance to play in the district final this year is going to do well in the postseason after that."
P-O was scheduled to open the season Tuesday at Penns Valley, but that game has been postponed to April 4. The Lady Mounties travel to Tyrone on Thursday.
Roster - Seniors
*Chelsea Brown, *Kate Burge, *Carly Gonder, *Aisha Goss, *Makayla Myers.
*Haley Frank, Tiffani Wagner.
Megan Bainey, *Kenzie Burge, *Abby Showers, *Morgan Williamson.
Jordan Bertothy, Haylee Hayward, Chelsey Henry, Alyssa Shedlock.
Schedule - March
26-at Penns Valley, ppd.; 28-at Tyrone.
3-Bellefonte; 4-at Penns Valley; 5-Bald Eagle Area; 9-Huntingdon; 12-at Central; 15-Clearfield; 18-Penns Valley; 22-at Central Mountain; 23-Tyrone; 26-Bellefonte; 29-at Bald Eagle Area.
2-at Huntingdon; 4-P-O Tournament (Altoona, Mifflin County), 10 a.m.; 6-Central; 9-at Clearfield; 11-Punxsutawney, 10 a.m.; 11-Clarion, 1:30 p.m.; 13-DuBois.
Games begin at 4:30 p.m. unless noted.