P-O softball team set for battle

Two wins over two WPIAL teams – Chartiers-Houston and Deer Lakes – and now the Philipsburg-Osceola softball teams gets the top team in the league in Riverside.

When the 23-1 Lady Mounties and the 21-0 Panthers meet up at 4 p.m. today at Brockway High School – again weather permitting – in the PIAA Class AA semifinals, P-O will taking the field against a very formidable team.

Riverside, which beat Deer Lakes, 5-1, in the District 7 championship, is riding the pitching of Kirsten Wilson, who has all of her team’s wins and has recorded 13 shutouts in her last 14 games to go along with her 244 strikeouts. Oh, and she’s hitting .560 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

“We have to play a good game,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said. “We’re fortunate to be able to go out there and play them. The pitcher looks great.”

“Playing Riverside on Monday is going to be a good game,” senior Aisha Goss said. “I’d say they are a pretty good team.”

No doubt about it. The Panthers are coming off a 13-0, five-inning pounding of District 6 runner-up Ligonier Valley. Riverside got a one-hitter from Wilson, who got plenty of offensive support from her teammates and help from Ligonier Valley, which committed eight errors. P-O beat Ligonier Valley, 8-7, in the district title game.

“I was a little surprised,” Gonder said. “I saw there were quite a few errors in the game. I knew they would score runs. Obviously, that pitcher must have a lot of stuff.”

P-O’s potent top of the lineup of Carly Gonder, Haley Frank, Mackenzie Burge, Abby Showers and Kate Burge will have to be on its game against Wilson.

P-O pitcher Kate Burge’s pitching stats aren’t as gaudy, but she has certainly excelled in the circle. Saturday’s 3-1 win over Deer Lakes hiked her record to 20-0, and her earned run average is hovering around 1.00.

She struck out 10 in a dominating performance against Chartiers-Houston, but she had five strikeouts in a four-hitter of Deer Lakes, and her defense played errorless. Left fielder Goss made a major league diving catch in the second inning to punctuate the effort.

“Some games you’re on your game and some games it’s more of a [relying on the] defense,” Burge said. “I can’t tell you which one I like more. I like when the ball is put in play and I see my defense, because they’re out there for a reason – to help me.”

“That was the best our outfield has played this year,” Jim Gonder said. “They made all of the plays, and they made some nice plays. We spent a lot of time since March 4 in developing our outfield. The hard work paid off.”

The Lady Mounties lost in the first round of the state playoffs, in eight innings, to eventual champion Neshannock last year, so some of the P-O players will be experiencing Final Four pressure for the first time.

Others, like seniors Burge, catcher Carly Gonder, Goss and second baseman McKayla Myers, have been here before and will be looking to get back to Penn State Friday against either old foe Brandywine Heights or Holy Redeemer. Burge, Gonder and Myers were starters on the 2011 team that won the state title.

“We say before every game we don’t want this to be our last game,” Carly Gonder said. “We’re such a tight-knit group, I don’t think [the underclassmen] want us to leave either.”