Moments after St. John Neumann dramatically edged Muncy, 7-6 in eight innings last Thursday, catcher Rachel Danneker described it as a win she always will remember.
Indeed, it was a huge win, possibly the best in program history. Neumann overcame three two-run deficits and paid back a former bully, winning 7-6 while beating Muncy for the first time in the 21st century. Still, there might be an even bigger moment coming for Danneker and her teammates.
That win over a team that then blasted Class AA Bloomsburg 14-4 the next day could be the one that catapults Neumann (6-6) to its first-ever playoff berth. A team that nearly had to cancel its season last month before Wendy Hunter helped save it by becoming the ninth player is now four wins away from reaching the postseason. A team that has to overcome more odds than nearly every District 4 team every year is four wins from program immortality.
"That's our goal, we want to make playoffs. We want to be the first team in school history to make them," said Danneker, after going 3 for 5 against Muncy. "If I'm on that first team I'll tell my kids, I'll tell everybody. That will be something to remember all my life."
The Knights already are closing in on their seventh win since they lead Millville 9-0 in the fourth inning of a game suspended because of rain last week. That means they would be two wins from eclipsing last season's best-ever win total. Many of those players are back again this year and throughout the season's first half, the Knights were knocking on the door when it came to beating some of the district's premier Class A teams. Thursday they kicked it down.
Muncy blanked Neumann 4-0 last month and three times appeared on the verge of knocking it out Thursday. Instead, the Knights kept fighting back as nine players reached base and six delivered hits. Christina Mignot, who has more than 110 strikeouts, pitched eight gutty innings while Emily Sholder drew a walk-off walk. This after Danneker hit a two-run, game-tying sixth-inning double and Alana Androvette, Katherine Mertes and Maddie Dincher, to name a few, delivered key hits.
These are the games in the past that Neumann would never win. But Thursday's game proved once and for all that for this team, the past is dead.
"The girls cautiously said, 'I believe but (assistant) Tony (Mignot) and I said, 'girls if you believe in yourselves like we believe in you, watch out,'" Neumann coach Ray Perchinski said. "I think after (Thursday) they believe now."
"We boosted our confidence," Mignot added. "We put it together and we made it work."
Neumann is one of District 4's smallest schools and no matter the sport, it always is fighting a numbers crunch. It was the same way in basketball last winter when the Knights had only nine players and no JV team. That group, though, reached the playoffs and nearly upset undefeated Line Mountain in the quarterfinals.
Not surprisingly many of those players are on the softball team. And again what Neumann lacks in numbers it makes up for in toughness and dedication. Mignot has established herself as one of the area's premier pitchers, Androvette is hitting near .600 and the lineup is becoming more well-rounded as the season progresses.
Suddenly, Neumann does not just look like a team that could make the playoffs. It looks like a team that could possibly make some noise if it qualifies.
"I keep telling them, 'Girls you're going to do something that nobody has ever done here,' and the girls are having fun," Perchinski said. "Everybody is doing great. They believe in each other, they believe in the coaches and it's a lot of fun."
THE KIDS CAN PLAY: Wellsboro has no seniors and starts mostly freshmen and sophomores. That has not stopped the Green Hornets from starting 6-3 and moving to the top of the NTL-West standings. Wellsboro is tied with Troy, last year's district runner-up and 2010 district champion but already has downed the Trojans, 3-1.
The Hornets have enjoyed a lot of youth softball success and have worked hard in the offseason so this looks likes a team that could shine for years to come. Sophomore pitchers Brooke Kohler and Maggie Smith are both effective and also do damage at the plate while freshmen Peyton Wilson and Jordan Butters each had three hits in a 15-3 win over Athens.
Freshman catcher Paige Carr also has been a big key to the team's success. She had barely ever caught before this season but is starting there now and has only two passed balls. If this team continues progressing in the coming years it could be a perennial district title contender.
EXTRA BASES: Give Muncy credit for quickly putting the Neumann loss aside and coming back strong against Bloomsburg. The Indians (8-4) mercy-ruled a team that had just one league loss and pounded out 14 hits. Crystal Good and three-time all-state selection Hannah Cole combined to go 7 for 7 while Caitlin Dauberman had three RBI. ... Canton catcher Morgan Palmer has hit five home runs in her last 10 games. She hit two in a 6-5 extra-inning loss to Troy last week. ... Hughesville recorded its second straight one-run win Saturday when it edged Northwest, 6-5. Megan Miller homered and pitched a three-hitter while Courtney Zook had three hits and two RBI.
DR. MASSE'S TOP FIVE
1. Jersey Shore (9-1): Talk about a tough two-day stretch. The Bulldogs beat Williamsport Monday and host Milton today. Jersey Shore always schedules tough and that has helped it win two straight HAC-I and District 4 Class AAA championships. Jersey Shore and Milton are tied for first in the HAC-I so Tuesday's game is a huge one that also could go a long way in determining the district's top seed. The Bulldogs excel year after year because quality players are developed well at the junior high and youth levels. Freshmen Averie Lorson and Bryce Hillyard are good examples after combining for five hits in a 6-0 win over Selinsgrove.
2. Warrior Run (11-0): It is hard to dominate much more thoroughly than the Defenders have their last four games. Warrior Run has outscored those teams 62-0 while out-hitting them, 49-2. Devin Nicholas quietly is having an outstanding season and senior Carly Stahl hit her first home run against Millville. Only one District 4 Class AA team qualifies for states this season so Warrior Run holding the No. 1 seed which it does right now could be a nice boost entering the postseason. Warrior Run faces a big challenge Thursday when it goes to Mifflinburg for a rematch of a game it won 4-3 in nine innings.
3. Williamsport (11-1): The Millionaires captured their first Williamsport Tournament championship since 2007 last weekend, outscoring three opponents, 28-5. It was an impressive all-around display as the defense played two error-less games Saturday and the offense produced 34 hits. Williamsport blanked Towanda and Daniel Boone 13-0 Saturday and has a chance to win another tournament at Elm Park this weekend, opening with a tough game against Conwell Egan.
4. Loyalsock (5-7): The Lancers are the best sub-.500 team in recent memory. Loyalsock has quality talent throughout the lineup but has lost seven games to teams with a combined 52-9 record. Loyalsock dropped an extra-inning heart-breaker to Central Columbia last Thursday despite belting out 16 hits against the defending District 4 Class AA champions. The Lancers have lost three games in extra innings and two games to Williamsport and Warrior Run by three combined runs. If Loyalsock qualifies for the postseason it might be the last team higher seeds want to see.
5. Montgomery (8-5): Nobody can question Montgomery's toughness. The Red Raiders scored five and six seventh-inning runs, respectively in losses to undefeated Southern Columbia and Bloomsburg. Montgomery trailed Bloomsburg, 7-0 in the bottom of the seventh before pulling within a run and putting the go-ahead runs on base. That is a quality that cannot be coached and helped Montgomery reach the state final two years ago. Kaitlin Persing had a breakout game against Bloomsburg, going 3 for 3.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK-Brooke Pompeo and Alexis Bower, Williamsport: Pompeo ignites Williamsport's offense with her hitting prowess and speed at the top of the lineup and went 7 for 12 with a home run, triple and double in three tournament wins. Bower went 3-0 on the mound, allowing no runs and only five hits while striking out 26 in two Saturday wins. The all-state junior also hit two home runs in three games and went 3 for 4 with a two-run home run in the championship.
GAME OF THE WEEK-South Williamsport at Muncy: Jersey Shore-Milton always is a great game so picking that as the Game of the Week yet again is kind of like pulling for the Globetrotters to beat the Washington Generals so Saturday's game is the choice. South (6-5) is battling for a playoff spot while Muncy is hoping to build on what it started against Bloomsburg. Cole is one of the state's premier players and South has some big bats, including Kalynn Wheeland, Sarah March and Casey Brewer.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org