PUNXSUTAWNEY - For Philipsburg-Osceola's Kate Burge, Carly Gonder, McKayla Myers and Aisha Goss, all of whom graduated Friday, it's been a long road to their last game, and they've shared a special bond.
Burge was the designated player as a freshman on the 2010 team that lost in 11 innings to Nanticoke in the state title game and the third baseman on the state-title winning 2011 team before taking over the pitching role the last two years.
Gonder was mainly a pinch runner in 2010, but she has caught the last three years - first at Chelsea Rex's battery mate and the last two with her pal Burge.
Myers was the steady defensive specialist, and Goss was somebody who came up with big hits and even bigger catches - like the sparkling one against Deer Lakes on Saturday.
As the P-O softball players were milling around and being comforted by their family and friends after the 2-0 loss to Riverside in the PIAA Class AA semifinals Tuesday, Burge broke away and tearfully hugged her catcher.
"Um, that was probably the toughest," Burge said as she wiped away tears, "because she's been my catcher since like third grade. She's going to West Virginia, and I'm going to be Penn State Altoona [to try out for the softball team], and I told her that I was going to kidnap her so she could come to Penn State Altoona with me.
"That's one of the worst feelings ever knowing one of your teammates is going so far away. It's a tough situation, but the sun will come up tomorrow. We'll be OK."
Burge, Gonder, Myers and Goss helped P-O get to new heights, amassing a 93-10 record in four years, and three of those losses came during the state playoffs.
"The seniors have had a great career," said P-O coach Jim Gonder, who is 557-128 after 30 years of coaching. "They've been involved in a game with the state champs, or they've been the state champs each of their years. What more can you ask of them? Kate Burge, McKayla Myers, Aisha Goss, Carly Gonder. ... It's been my pleasure coaching them."
Asked to sum up her career, Burge said, "Ah, that's going to make me cry. I don't know. I think the saddest part about it is not just how we lost, but I lost a lot of friendships. I mean I hope we stay in touch, but we're going our separate ways with the seniors and underclassmen.
"We're so close and we're so sisterlike, and we knew if he had a problem, we could talk to any of the teammates about it. That's the part I'm going to miss the most."
"The loss isn't what gets me, it's losing these girls," Carly Gonder said tearfully, "because I've become best friends with all of them. The younger ones have grown so close to all of us, and they would do anything for us."
The Lady Mounties went 23-2 this season, overcame an early-season injury to Burge, lost one regular season game to Central Mountain, won the Mountain League, won their fourth straight District 6 title and made their way through WPIAL teams in the state playoffs before losing to unbeaten Riverside.
"From the season standpoint, you're in the Final Four and you lose 2-0 to who I'll predict will be the eventual state champs," Jim Gonder said.
"This season was awesome, obviously," Carly Gonder said.
P-O always seems to reload, and it will have six starters back, including its top hitter in shortstop Abby Showers, but current junior high players will have big shoes to fill.
"We'll do our best," Jim Gonder said. "There's younger kids coming waiting to play, excited about playing, and given an opportunity, they'll do well too."