When teams face each other in the PIAA playoffs, they usually have a little bit of a scouting report, but that's it. They haven't faced or seen each other, so they have to rely on the scouting report and their own talent.
That won't be the case when Philipsburg-Osceola (23-1) and Burrell (19-1) square off in the PIAA Class AA state softball semifinals at 4 p.m. today at Hollidaysburg's Legion Park.
They played each other in last year's quarterfinals at Brockway, and the Lady Mounties advanced with a 5-1 win. Eleven of the starters return from that game (six from Burrell, five from P-O), including the pitchers in P-O's Chelsea Rex and Burrell's Casey Moses.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Mackenzie Wilson and her P-O teammates played Burrell last season in the state playoffs.
"I think it's a big advantage that we played them last year," Rex said. "I think we know what to expect. I think we have an edge most of the time because our coaches have great scouting reports. We have so much information, and that definitely helps me as a pitcher."
"Last year when we played them, as a whole, we were a team that was achieving faster than we expected," Burrell coach Mike Spagnolo said. "We were a little overwhelmed. Coming off losing in the WPIAL finals, we had a close game with St. Marys and we were expecting to win against Philipsburg. Now, we're just looking at it apprehensively. It's going to be a darn good game."
Rex had her problems early on against Burrell last year, throwing 40 of her 117 pitches in the first two innings. She, however, settled down and finished with nine strikeouts, three walks and gave up a late unearned run.
Who: Philipsburg-Osceola (23-1) vs. Burrell (19-1).
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Hollidaysburg's Legion Park
Last meeting: Philipsburg-Osceola won, 5-1, in last year's state quarterfinals.
What's at stake: Winner plays either Brandywine Heights or Christopher Dock in the state finals.
Coaches: Philipsburg-Osceola-Jim Gonder. Burrell-Mike Spagnolo.
Possible lineups: Burrell-1. Jaila Manga, lf, 2. Nina Spagnolo, ss; 3. Justine Damico, 3b; 4. Courtney Reed, c; 5. Kaitlyn Sweeney, cf; 6. Casey Moses, p; 7. Claire Fisher, 2b; 8. Jordan Moses, 1b; 9. Allison Landowsky, dp; Kaitlyn Uzelac, rf, flex. Philipsburg-Osceola-1. Carly Gonder, c; 2. Amanda Arnold, 1b; 3. Mackenzie Wilson, ss; 4. Chelsea Rex, p; 5. Kate Burge, 3b; 6. Kelci Knepp, rf; 7. Macy Harpster, cf; 8. Katie Carpin, lf; 9. Aisha Goss, dp; McKayla Myers, 2b, flex.
Experience: Eleven of the starters who played in the game last year return, including pitchers Rex and Casey Moses.
- Compiled by Todd Irwin
Rex is coming off a nine-strikeout, three-walk outing in a 3-2 win over Greensburg Central Catholic, which scored two unearned runs in the top of the seventh inning before Carly Gonder's game-winning hit in the bottom of the inning.
"She likes to mix her pitches, throws a riser and has a great changeup," Spagnolo said. "We didn't know that last year."
"I'm feeling pretty healthy, and I have a lot of confidence," said Rex, who was hampered by arm problems during the regular season. "I know we're going to produce runs with our lineup. I think everything is leaning toward us."
Rex was helped out in the first inning last year by a spectacular catch by center fielder Macy Harpster, who, with a runner on first, dove with full extension for a Nina Spagnolo low liner in the left-center gap and caught it before she landed in the grass. P-O veteran coach Jim Gonder called it then the "greatest catch I've seen since I've been coaching." Coach Spagnolo said afterward it changed the course of the game.
Informed that Harpster was back for P-O, Mike Spagnolo quickly said, "That's unfortunate for us. That was the turning point in that game. Philipsburg was uplifted and we couldn't recover."
"That took some of the wind out of their sails," Coach Gonder said. "But we have to make the routine plays also. We're hoping to play our game."
Moses, who struck out four and walked none against P-O, retired the first seven batters last year before Amanda Arnold singled to center, and Mackenzie Wilson belted a two-run single in the same inning.
She's coming off of a nine-strikeout, one-walk performance in a 6-2 quarterfinal win over Central Cambria. Moses, whose ball has a lot of movement, retired the final 13 batters, but she has been dogged by umpires calling her for illegal pitches. She had five against CC and seven in the previous game.
"Coming into the playoffs, she was peaking real well," Coach Spagnolo said. "She has started to come into her own. The umpiring has been a deterrent to her approach. They're saying she's replanting and crow-hopping [off of the pitching rubber]. Sometimes I see it and sometimes I don't. When she's throwing her sinker and her drop, she's pretty tough to hit. Hopefully, she has one of those games tomorrow."
"She is one of the best in the WPIAL and one of the best in the state," Gonder said. "She works pitches around in the strike zone and does a nice job."
Moses and cleanup hitter Courtney Reed had two hits apiece in a seven-hit attack against Central Cambria. It was the Bucs' short game, though, that put pressure on the Lady Red Devils' corners. Burrell had four sacrifice bunts, which CC made two errors on in a four-run fifth, and it stole five bases.
"We like the short game when we can execute it," Coach Spagnolo said. "We use it as a deterrent to keep the defense honest. Against Central Cambria, it worked in that instance."
"I think our defense is ready for it," Rex said. "I have a lot of trust in Kate Burge at third base, Amanda [Arnold] at first and Carly [Gonder] behind the plate. We've been playing really good defense."
The winner moves on to play either Brandywine Heights or Christopher Dock in the state championship at 11 a.m. Friday at Penn State. Rex, the St. Francis University recruit, has been using every game as a stepping stone to get back to the state finals, where P-O lost a 3-1 heartbreaker to Nanticoke in 11 innings at Shippensburg University last season.
"You don't overlook any team," Rex said. "Our goal is to play Friday and win that game. Tonight, I'm not looking for Friday. Our main goal is to beat Burrell. I'm really excited and I haven't been sleeping much. I'm not ready for my senior year to end because I want to win a state championship."
"To get back in the final four again is what we play our whole season around," Gonder said. "We're fortunate to be able to do this again."