Way to go, P-O: Lady Mounties capture third state championship

Kylie Thal (right) and Hannah Thompson celebrate their state championship with a hug following Philipsburg-Osceola’s win Thursday. Go to cu.altoonamirror.com for a gallery of photos from the game. / Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

UNIVERSITY PARK — Holy Redeemer senior pitcher Morgan Bienkowski came into Thursday’s PIAA Class 3A state championship softball game against Philipsburg-Osceola with some gaudy pitching statistics.

– 282 strikeouts in 135 innings

– 0.26 ERA

– 13 shutouts

But the Lady Mounties jumped on Bienkowski right off of the bat in a 40-pitch first inning, scoring five runs and sending nine batters to the plate on a warm, sun-splashed day at a Penn State’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

That was all P-O pitcher Kam Harris, who relishes pressure situations, needed as she gave up only three runs, struck out eight, walked none and drove in two runs with a wall-banging single to lead the Lady Mounties to their third state title, 8-3.

“I knew we were prepared,” senior shortstop Hannah Thompson said. “I knew we would hit the ball, and we did, but I never expected (to win) by that much.”

“It was unbelievably important,” P-O coach Jim Gonder said. “It’s kind of contagious when you hit.”

When third baseman Jayde Burge tagged out pinch runner Jillian Smith for the last out, that touched off a jubilant celebration in the infield and in the stands among the huge throng of P-O fans.

“I don’t know if amazing is the right word for this, or surreal,” said senior catcher Kylie Thal, who was hugging her dad and third base coach Jim Thal after the final out. “It’s beyond that. I’ve wanted this my whole entire life. This is the reason why I play summer ball, why I played in middle school. I feel satisfied.”

“It was everything I’d ever imagined,” Thompson said. “I dreamed about it a lot, and I pictured it. It was a great feeling.”

“Words can’t describe how I feel,” Gonder said after his third state title and 665th career win. “I’m very proud of the girls. I’m very proud of the fact that our lineup has been just like it’s been all year – everyone contributed.”

P-O, which won state titles in 2007 and 2011, finished with a record of 25-1, tying the program record for season wins. P-O won 25 games in 2010 and 2011.

Holy Redeemer (20-3) had two state titles in two of the last three years, but the Royals had to play from behind the whole game.

“Fantastic ball club,” Redeemer coach Jerry Paulukonis said of P-O. “They hit great, have some really good pitching. They played solid defense and made the plays they needed to.”

Thal, who has been igniting the P-O offense in the state playoffs, did it again in the first inning, leading off the bottom of the inning with a double to left field.

“My first at-bat I was thinking just do what I do and show the team that this is possible,” Thal said. “I think that’s my job as a leader.”

“I knew when Kylie started if off, we were going to get up on (Bienkowski),” Harris said. “She really brought some momentum, and that was a good pop to us.”

Hannah Thompson and Harris worked walks off of Bienkowski, and Thal beat the throw home on Burge’s dribbler up the middle. Kylie Adams followed with a single just beyond shortstop Samantha Rajza to score Thompson and courtesy runner Hannah Minarchick.

Rachel Simpson’s single to center field plated Adams with the fifth run. P-O was up 5-0 on Redeemer’s star pitcher, who threw 132 pitches in the game.

“Coming into this game, we knew a little bit about what she threw,” Harris said. “We have worked all year on to lay off the high pitches, so when she was throwing high we weren’t swinging. We were hacking at her pitches.”

“We knew that she liked to work inside, and we knew that she didn’t like to work outside,” Gonder said. “So, we backed off the plate and said ‘Go ahead, throw it outside. See what you can do.’ I don’t think she was as effective. Our game plan was nothing up, don’t swing at changeups and make her come inside to you.

“I think everyone of these kids will say they heard plate discipline 55 times in the last two days.”

The Royals started cutting into the P-O lead in the second when Allyson Laluvara ripped a two-run home run over the right field fence.

They climbed to within one in the fourth when Tiana Wren led off with a single, moved to second on cleanup hitter Taylor Josefowicz’s sacrifice bunt and scored on one of McKenna Dolan’s three hits.

The Lady Mounties, however, extended the lead in the bottom of the inning as Thal reached on an error and Madison Lucas laced one of her two hits to center. Lucas moved up to second on a throwing error, putting runners on second and third.

Harris, who had six RBIs against Southmoreland, drove them in by pounding a Bienkowski offering off of the left field fence, making the score 7-3. Harris, though, only made it to first base.

“Kam, were you in your home run trot going to first base?” Gonder joked nearby.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harris said laughing.

“At that very moment, I thought to myself ‘I want to help my team.’ I thought it was over the fence and I was jogging, and I shouldn’t have been.”

The Royals threatened again in the sixth as they loaded the bases with one out on three singles. Laluvara looked to tie the game, but she popped the ball up behind home plate, and Thal made a tremendous diving catch for the second out.

“Kylie made an unbelievable catch,” Gonder said. “That’s the defensive play of the game.”

With the bases still loaded, Harris, who threw 105 pitches, struck out Lynzie Skoronski for the third out. Harris double-pumped her fist as she ran out of the pitching circle.

“When those bases were loaded, it brought a little more pressure to me, and I seem to thrive under pressure,” Harris said.

“She’s absolutely amazing,” Thompson said of Harris. “She hit her spots and she pitched a very good game.”

P-O added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Thompson ripped a two-out double to left-center and Lucas singled her in.

Harris recorded a strikeout and a fly ball out for the first two outs of the seventh as the excitement built. Rajza’s ground ball got by shortstop Thompson, but left fielder Adams threw to Burge, who tagged Smith for the final out.

All the players and coaches received medals, and seniors Thal, Thompson and Burge hoisted the championship trophy. Another senior, No. 9 hitter Lacey Potter, missed the game because she was on a school trip to Europe, but the team had a roll-up poster of her as the medals were being hand out.

Asked when she would take her medal off, Harris said, “Probably a week or so.”

Later, the team bus got a fire engine escort through town and to the high school. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that P-O, which was nearly upset by Tyrone in the District 6 quarterfinals, could be getting another escort next year.

“I’m not going to think about next year,” Gonder said. “I don’t care about next year right now. I’m going to enjoy this win.”

HOLY REDEEMER (3): Bienkowski p 400, Rajza ss 401, Wren c 312, Josefowicz 1b 200, Dolan 2b 313, Laluvara cf 311, Skoronski 3b 300, Dacey lf 301, Smith pr 000, MccDermott dp 300, Murray rf 000. Totals: 28-3-8.

PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (8): Thal c 321, Thompson ss 321, Lucas rf 412, Harris p 201, Minarchick cr 010, Burge 3b 310, Adams lf 211, Simpson 2b 301, Carns cf 300, Lewis dp 300, Kephart 1b 000. Totals: 26-8-7.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Holy Redeemer 020 100 0–3 8 2

Philipsburg-Osceola 500 201 x–8 7 1

Errors–Rajza, Laluvara, Thompson. 2B–Thal, Thompson. HR–Laluvara. RBI–Laluvara 2, Dolan; Harris 2, Adams 2, Lucas, Burge, Simpson. SAC–Josefowicz. HBP–Thompson. LOB–Holy Redeemer 5, Philipsburg-Osceola 5.

PITCHING

Holy Redeemer: Bienkowski (L)–6 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO.

Philipsburg-Osceola: Harris (W)–7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO.

Records: Holy Redeemer (20-3); Philipsburg-Osceola (25-1)

Umpires: HP–Eric Felack, 1B–William Saporito; 2B–Edward Marko; 3B–Alvin Bowser.

Time: 1:50

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