Goodman Shaffer: Catching college softball fever in PA

Commentary

The Women’s College World Series is in the books, with Florida State winning the NCAA Championship with a two-game sweep of Washington last week.

It was an historic win for the Seminoles, not only the first national title for their program, but the first NCAA softball crown for the Atlantic Coast Conference as well.

But that FSU victory had to be bittersweet for the Pittsburgh softball team. The Panthers lost a heartbreaker to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game in Atlanta. Pitt actually led 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, before the Seminoles blasted a 3-run walk-off homer to end the Panthers’ season.

For FSU to go on to claim the national title shows just how close the University of Pittsburgh program, under head coach Holly Aprile is to the elite in the country.

It would have been great to see Pitt and Saint Francis softball do battle this season; their match-up was canceled due to weather, as was the Panthers’ scheduled meeting with Penn State.

The Red Flash hammered the Nittany Lions in the regular season, outscoring PSU, 17-3 in the double-header sweep at University Park.

Saint Francis finished the year with back-to-back conference championships and a solid showing against the top two seeds in the Tucson regional. The Red Flash are seeking a new head coach as history-making Jennifer Patrick-Swift moves on to NC State.

What she leaves behind is a program now known for power: The Flash led the nation in home runs through their conference tournament in 2018; it is also a program that has set a new standard for itself, one where excellence and winning are expected.

Saint Francis is a program that will attract great coach candidates and will continue to recruit outstanding student-athletes, committed to continuing the new legacy of the Red Flash program while also pursuing an exceptional education.

The Flash have built their program by taking on the best in the nation, with an intentionally challenging schedule. This year, Saint Francis played seven top-25 opponents and 20 games against the RPI top 100. They are not afraid of anybody.

Pennsylvania college softball faces its share of challenges, most notably the weather. This season was especially difficult with the long-lasting winter and soggy spring.

But with natural rivalries like those between Saint Francis, Pitt and Penn State, coupled with the rising nationwide interest in softball, the opportunities are here.

In spite of a disappointing 9-41 overall record, PSU set a program attendance record on senior weekend with 1,411 fans filling the standing-room only Nittany Lion Softball Park for the final Saturday home game. Happy Valley softball fans are on board and hopeful for next year.

The future of Division I college softball in our region is bright – looking forward to 2019.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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