UNIVERSITY PARK - After their 4-1 loss to Minersville in the PIAA Class A championship game, the Claysburg-Kimmel softball team posed for a photo in the outfield at Penn State's Beard Field.
In that photo were seven seniors who took the program to a level it had never been to before.
Five of those seniors - pitcher Kiersten Coho, catcher Mallory Cox, second baseman Madison Ickes, left fielder Mercedeze LeMaster and right fielder Abby Kulick - were starters for a program that made the state semifinals in two of the last three years. Cox was a four-year starter, and Coho and Kulick were on the team as freshmen.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Mercedeze LeMaster reacts to a fifth-inning double.
They helped the Lady Bulldogs win District 6 titles in 2011 and 2013 and finished second in 2012 and this season. In that time, C-K won 83 games, including a 22-5 record this season.
"I do believe we are a special group of girls," Kulick said. "We've been playing with each other from Little League to the whole way up through. Three of us (including Coho and Cox) moved up our freshman year and played at Penn State all four years."
"We all grew up together, and we all played with or against each other in Little League," Coho said. "Being able to play that young up until now was a very good experience."
"This senior group is amazing," C-K coach Mike Barbarini said. "We played together, and that's why we got to this point.
The anchor of that success for the past two seasons has been Coho, who finished 19-4 this season. Minersville got to her early with four runs on seven hits in the first two innings, but the University of Hartford recruit found her groove and kept the Miners, who had scored 35 runs in three state playoff games, scoreless the rest of the way.
"I thought she did very well," Kulick said. "We might have been swinging at bad pitches, but everything we hit was right to them. And then everything they hit was sort of in the gaps."
"She threw well," Barbarini said. "She kept them offbalance and jammed a few of them. Her drop ball was working well, so they were hitting everything into the ground."
Minersville pitcher Riley Gerenda had a no-hitter going for the first 4 innings before LeMaster pounded a double to deep left field.
"It was a very key hit," Coho said. "It helped us get up a little bit in that one inning, and we started getting hits."
Ickes was the last batter of the day for C-K. She singled to left field as the Lady Bulldogs continued to rally in the seventh, but the Miners cut down Christina Wannyn with a perfect relay throw at home to end the game.
The seniors will all go their own way now, but they'll look back in the future about Friday's game.
"It's a great feeling to say 'Hey, I've played in the state championship, and I have a silver championship medal,' " Kulick said. "Not a lot of people can say that. Myself, Kiersten and Mallory have two District 6 medals as well. We had a very successful four years of softball together."
"I thought we had a chance," Barbarini said of the season. "I thought we were a better hitting team than we were in the past when we got to the final four a couple times. I figured if a few things broke our way we could get there. Any time you only have five losses in a season, it's a great season. The girls played well. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed it."
Barbarini will have a very young and inexperienced team next season. He'll likely turn the pitching duties over to shortstop Hannah Claycomb, who was 3-0 as a junior, and start rebuilding.
"It's tough," Barbarini said, "because all of the seniors are gone, and my season is over. We have to start over with a new bunch of girls, and it's going to be difficult."