He is still there. He has to be. Players can feel him, they can hear him.
Former St. John Neumann coach Ray Perchinski might not be in the dugout anymore but bet his presence still is. Perchinski died last January, leaving a gaping void at the school he adored. His players are still dealing with the pain but have no doubt he is somewhere watching and cheering.
"Ray was definitely the best softball coach I have ever had and his memory follows me everywhere I go," senior catcher Rachel Danneker said. "I know he comes to every game because I can feel his presence with me. I can hear him telling me to 'dig deep and release the beast.' I think about him before every game."
Everyone in the Neumann community does. Perchinski was one of the most beloved coaches in Neumann history and Monday, May 12, his school will hold a "Coach Ray Day" at Elm Park as Neumann hosts Montgomery. Perchinski's daughters, Colleen and Mallory Perchinski will be there to throw the pitches. Those two designed a T-shirt many will be wearing that day and any profits from the shirts will be given to the new "Coach Ray" Scholarship fund.
Perchinski is getting a day in the sun after giving so many to his players over the last five years. He led Neumann to the two best seasons in program history in 2011 and 2012 as the Knights reached the playoffs for the first first time in 2012. Perchinski taught the game well and enjoyed every second of the experience.
As much as the players learned about the game, they learned more about life. It is not necessarily, the softball lessons they miss. They miss the man himself and everything he represented.
"Coach Ray was more like a father to me than anything else. He had such an impact on my life and helped me to develop into the athlete I am today," Danneker, a four-year starter, said. "He didn't just impact my life, he had an amazing influence on so many people. Myself, along with plenty of others, looked to Ray for guidance, support, advice, and encouragement. He would never yell, and he rarely raised his voice, even slightly. I loved seeing him smile and goof off with the team."
A year ago, Neumann was undergoing a massive rebuilding project. Nearly every starter from that 2012 history-making team had graduated and the Knights were one of the district's youngest teams. Early that year, however, Perchinski remained optimistic. He was having as much fun as he did the previous two seasons and his eyes lit up when talking about where this team would be in the coming years.
The players felt that confidence too and progressed as the season continued. Neumann remains young this season but the progress continues under new coach Mark Temons, a close Perchinski friend, who came out of retirement to help Perchinski's vision become a reality. Ignore the Knights' 2-5 record too because they are making strides.
Neumann is still a young team but gave District 4 Class A title contender Bloomsburg a scare last week, battling to a 4-4 tie through five innings before losing 10-4. They also had close calls against potential playoff teams CMVT and Benton. Temons shares the excitement Perchinski felt and good times appear on the horizon. The Neumann community will honor Perchinski on May 12 but his players are doing that every day.
"It's definitely an adjustment for me because Ray had been my coach since seventh grade and it doesn't feel right to look into the dugout and not see his massive smile," Danneker said. "I'm slowly getting used to Ray's absence but the wound still hasn't healed. Every catch, every throw, every hit, every run, everything, goes out to Coach Ray. We will always be Ray's girls, and I hope we make him proud this season."
Somewhere one can almost hear Perchinski responding:
They always did. They always do.
GOOD TIMES: Montoursville (5-3) handed Southern Columbia its first loss Saturday, winning 3-2 on Marlene Bassett's walk-off single that scored Tara Lorson. The Warriors have nearly matched last year's win total already and are playing relaxed and loose. Watch the Warriors in the dugout and it is hard to tell whether they are winning and losing.
Either way, they are having fun and believing they can win no matter what. The Warriors have won five of their last seven games and showed against Southern that they are as much a threat as any in District 4 Class AA.
"They're having a great time," Montoursville coach Mike Tate said following a 15-3 win over Warrior Run. "Practices have been a blast. You're stuck inside more than being outside so you try and make it as fun as you can. They're a fun group of girls to be around and they make it fun coming out here."
Montoursville is hitting better than it has in recent years and delivered 28 hits in two wins last week. Catcher Kelsey Stine had seven hits last week while Payton Lynch had three against Southern Columbia. Janelle Konkle and Kourtney Phillips both had two hits in the Southern win.
EXTRA BASES: Williamsport turned its extra-inning bad luck around last Thursday, winning 6-5 in 11 innings at DuBois. It was the first time the Millionaires won in four extra-inning games this season. Williamsport (1-5) easily could be 5-1, losing four games by one run, including two in the opponent's final at-bat ... Cowanesque Valley is heating up and has won four straight. The Indians (5-2) are the only District 4 team that has beaten two-time defending district champion Northeast Bradford and delivered 26 hits in Saturday's double header sweep of Northern Potter. Shanelle Ianson and Courtney Schauer combined for eight RBIs in the second game ... Paige Ramin, Cortney Zook, Makenna Budman and Juneil Ritter all had two hits as Hughesville beat Lewisburg, 14-1 last Thursday ... Montgomery played Bloomsburg Monday, marking its first action in more than a week. The Red Raiders entered 3-0. South Williamsport's Lizz Cummings went 4 for 6 with two home runs and a double last week ... Sullivan County won its first game, edging Millville, 16-15 as Emily McMahon had three hits and scored three runs.
Dr. Masse's top five in softball
(Through Monday's Games)
1. Milton (7-0): The Black Panthers entered Monday's big game against Mifflinburg still on an offensive rampage. The Black Panthers scored 87 runs and delivered 87 hits in their first seven games. They collected 27 hits in a sweep of Shamokin (5-3) last week as undefeated pitcher Taylor Batman displayed her hitting skills too. Batman went 5 for 8 with a home run, double and six RBIs in those wins.
2. Jersey Shore (6-1): The Bulldogs are the only team that has stayed within five runs of Milton and the defending District 4 Class AAA champions remain one of the district's premier programs. Jersey Shore's field is one of the area's toughest to hit home runs over the fence but Kaitlyn Cowfer did it in a 13-3 win over Danville while going 2 for 3 with a triple too and three RBIs. The Bulldogs are hitting well throughout the lineup too and new players like Courtney Breon and Shelbie Wenner are making an impact. Breon went 3 for 5 with five RBIs in a 10-0 win over Midd-West while Wenner had two RBIs against Danville.
3. Loyalsock (5-2): After a slow start, the Lancers are turning things around and have won four straight while winning three mercy-rule games. Loyalsock outscored Warrior Run and Hughesville 22-2 last week while delivering 21 hits. Sophomore pitcher Kayla Gee had a huge season last year and is picking up steam after a rough start. She has allowed four hits or fewer in three straight starts and also was 4-for-6 last week while Allie Pagana was 5-for-7 with a home run.
4. Muncy (6-1): The Indians avenged their only defeat last Thursday, beating rival Bloomsburg, 1-0 in a nine-inning thriller while handing the Panthers their first loss. Muncy has wins over South Williamsport and Bloomsburg within the last two weeks and is playing in this weekend's Montoursville Tournament, something that, win or lose, should benefit come playoff time. Former Montgomery standout Emily Shnyder is making a big impact and earned the win against Bloomsburg, throwing two scoreless innings of relief, while hitting the game-winning RBI double. Starting pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter is 5-1 and has been a part of four shutouts.
5. Wellsboro (6-1): The Green Hornets lost their first game to Towanda but bounced back, beating Liberty 13-0 and Canton 2-0. Sophomore pitcher Alexa Singer continues shining and has won all six games. She and Brooke Kohler combined on a two-hitter in Saturday's win. Fellow shortstop Sarah Ingerick is off to a stellar start and went 4 for 4 with a home run and five RBIs against Liberty. That was her fifth straight multi-hit game.
Player of the week
Kendall Watkins, Loyalsock: Another of the area's super sophomores, Watkins has been on a tear and it continued last week. The third baseman went 5 for 5 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. Watkins has one of the area's quickest swings and has homered four times in her last five games while driving in four or more runs three times.
Game of the week
Friday's Williamsport Tournament: Ok, this is cheating but Friday at Elm Park will be a lot of fun as the first round of the eight-team Williamsport Tournament opens. Loyalsock plays Towanda in a battle of District 4 Class AA heavyweights before Muncy plays Montoursville at 8 and Williamsport faces Troy at 8. All three games should be good ones and this should be a nice showcase of District 4 talent.