Relaxed Mounties continue to rally past opponents

As they warmed up before Thursday’s District 4 Class A championship, some South Williamsport softball players danced. Others sang and others laughed.

It obviously was a relaxed team. A few innings into the game, South trailed Bloomsburg, 2-0. Players were not dancing or singing but they still seemed just as relaxed. There was no anxiety, no panic. The Mounties were upbeat and seemed as confident as they were before the game.

They did not plan on being behind but felt right at home. They do, after all, have a reputation to live up to.

Right on cue, South scored four two-out, fourth-inning runs, played stellar defense and rode the clutch pitching of Anna Steer as it rallied for a 5-2 win and captured the program’s first district title since 2006. It was a fitting end to a district title run in which South came back to win all three games.

“We just never put our heads down. We stay calm,” said left fielder Roxie Keller, who hit the game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the fourth. “We’re like if it doesn’t happen then we get them in the next at-bat or then the next at-bat. It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re coming back. We’re the Comeback Kids.”

Center fielder Lizz Cummings, who hit her eighth home run in the seventh inning, gave South that name after it rallied for an early-season comeback win at Loyalsock. It was more in reference to the several comebacks South made last year when it reached the district semifinals for the first time in four years but it has applied to 2014 ever since.

South (16-6), which meets District 2 champion Old Forge in Monday’s state tournament opener at Mid Valley High School, has come from behind to win six times this season and never flinched when faced with a series of pressure situations come playoff time. The Mounties were down to their last three outs against two-time defending champion Northeast Bradford. They trailed top-seeded Muncy 4-2 in the sixth inning in the semifinals and were behind 2-0 after three innings against HAC-III co-champion Bloomsburg.

But here South is, District 4’s best team. To paraphrase NFL Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, when it has been too tough for others it has been just right for the resilient Mounties.

“We might be down on the scoreboard but we’re not down. We all know we can come back and we believe we can come back and when the opportunities come that’s what we do,” said senior shortstop Kalynn Wheeland after going 3 for 4 and igniting the four-run rally against Bloomsburg with a 1-out single. “We’re comfortable. We’re not worried. We know we’re going to come around.”

South twice rallied past Loyalsock during the regular season, sweeping the Lancers for the first time since 2007. The Mounties also avenged a previous defeat and made a late comeback to beat Montoursville. Those games, however, were just a tune-up. The biggest and best comebacks came when the games meant the most.

Northeast Bradford beat South 3-0 in last year’s district semifinals and led 4-3 entering the bottom of the seventh last week. The Mounties had stranded a lot of baserunners throughout the first six innings but did not buckle. Keller drew a lead-off walk, Sabrina Mussare bunted her to second and freshman Paige Lentz hit a game-tying single before scoring the winning run on Wheeland’s flyball to left field.

“We’ve done this so many times before. We’ve been in so many situations like this before, it just comes naturally,” Lentz said. “We know we don’t get down on ourselves, we can do this. We just stay positive and we can get it.”

That remained the mentality against Muncy when the Indians took a 4-2 lead into the sixth inning. Muncy defeated South earlier in the season and ace Amanda Kustanbauter had retired 12 straight hitters. Six outs away from elimination, the end appeared imminent.

Except to South.

Kelsey Gantz hit a game-tying two-run home run after slamming a two-run triple earlier in the day before Lentz scored on a seventh-inning wild pitch as South took a 5-4 lead. Steer then stranded the winning runners with no outs, retiring the next three as South clinched the program’s first state tournament berth in eight years.

“I think it starts from years before, we were always the comeback kids,” Steer said. “We know we just need to keep fighting and it’s not our last shot. If we’re down, we just need to keep our heads up. Nobody ever gets down on each other and that really helps.”

Bloomsburg took a quick 2-0 first-inning lead and pitcher Emily Wawroski had South off-balance through the first three innings. Again, it did not matter. Wawroski opened the inning with a strikeout before Wheeland and Gantz hit consecutive singles. An error kept the inning alive and Keller changed the game’s complexion delivering the biggest hit of her scholastic career.

The bottom of the order sparked that game-winning rally against NEB and delivered again as Lentz hit the go-ahead two-run single. Those players repeatedly coming up big is a huge reason the team is so confident under all circumstances. They know everyone can hit, everyone can play. Everyone is a threat.

“It’s so amazing but they have done it it so many times it’s almost like it’s not news anymore. You see it happen a couple times here and there and you think this team has something. You can’t expect it all the time but it’s great to have,” South coach Scott Stugart said. “It doesn’t surprise me because I know it’s in them but to do it all the time is just amazing. It’s unbelievable.”

Truth be told, South would prefer not having to come back against Old Forge. It would love taking a lead and holding it the whole game. If Old Forge takes the lead, however, do not expect the Mounties to run and hide.

These Comeback Kids love to fight.