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Decade’s best No. 1: Raiders made history in 2010

As Casey Drick threw a perfectly-placed pitch and struck out Northeast Bradford’s final batter, what once seemed some crazy dream had become reality.

Prior to 2004, Montgomery had never reached the playoffs. Prior to 2010, Montgomery had never won a league or district title.

Now Montgomery was the Class A Eastern Region champion. Now Montgomery was going to the state championship.

What a way to get there, too. An army of Raider fans arrived early, stayed loud all game and let out shouts of joy and relief following Drick’s game-ending strikeout. Drick and Alyssa Molino delivered breakthrough RBI extra-base hits in the top of the ninth and Drick closed it out in the bottom of the inning, stranding the tying run on first as Montgomery won this blockbuster Eastern Final, 2-1, in nine exhilarating innings at Elm Park.

“They will never forget this, ever,” Montgomery coach Craig Weaver Sr. said afterward. “This is something that when they are grown up and have their own families they will remember this. I am really, really pleased and happy for the girls to get to experience this because you look around at the schools that are rich in tradition and they only make it once or twice in the history of the school and we’re very fortunate to be going where we’re going.”

Montgomery started making steady progress after Weaver became the coach in 2004, reaching the postseason for the first time in his debut year. A strong core of what would become the 2010 state finalists had arrived by 2008 and Montgomery achieved in another milestone, reaching its first district final and state tournament. Northeast Bradford battered Montgomery in the final, something Montgomery remembered as it moved forward.

The Raiders dropped a 2-1 semifinal heartbreaker to eventual champion Muncy in 2009 but returned most of those starters in 2010. Weaver said just two weeks into the season he sensed something was special and his team started proving him right. Montgomery won its last 17 regular-season games, went undefeated in league play and captured the HAC-III championship. The Raiders then routed Muncy in the district semifinals before exacting revenge and blanking Northeast Bradford, 3-0, for the program’s first district championship.

“I felt like we could go a long way but I didn’t know we were going to make it this far,” three-year starting second baseman Kelsey Lynch said following the Eastern Final. “It feels great. When we started winning all these games and got to districts and won that then we were feeling really good and we knew we could make it far after that.”

Montgomery faced an Old Forge team which returned eight starters from a state finalist, but had little trouble winning its first state tournament game, defeating it, 5-0. Kirsten and Kailtyn Warzel came up huge in the next round and Drick was overpowering as Montgomery handed District 6 champion Ligonier Valley its first loss, 1-0, and reaching the state semifinals.

And there was Northeast Bradford waiting again, another championship at stake. This time the roles were reversed. Now it was the Panthers seeking revenge. Beating NEB was hard enough the first time and the challenge only increased after it won its two state tournament games in convincing fashion.

This rematch was not just a great game, but also a showcase for District 4 softball. And what a show Montgomery and NEB put on. Drick and Haylie Phillips put on a pitching clinic, mowing through both dangerous offenses and being backed by strong defenses. Drick worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning and tossed a six-hitter, striking out 12. Phillips was at the top of her game as well and took a two-hitter into the ninth inning as both teams struggled to create offensive opportunities.

Lynch led off the ninth by scorching a hard grounder to second base and when it was bobbled, she reached first. Montgomery had a chance now and, following a strikeout, its two best hitters were coming up. Against Muncy a year earlier on the same field, Drick and Alyssa Molino batted with the tying run on third and both were retired.

Now redemption was at hand.

Drick fell behind 0-2 before smashing an RBI double into the left-center field gap and reaching third on an error. Molino also fell behind 0-2, but after working a 10-pitch at-bat her previous time up, Molino was giving nothing away. The all-state outfielder crushed an RBI triple to nearly the same spot Drick had hit her double. Montgomery led 2-0 and was three outs from the state final.

“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and then I remember the last time I played these guys every hit I got was with two strikes, so I told myself just because there’s two strikes doesn’t mean I’m done yet,” Molino said. “I’ve had one home run this year, but I’ll take that triple in this game over any home run any day. It was great.”

By this point, Drick had thrown 34 consecutive scoreless playoff innings. But when Phillips led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run, Molino’s RBI triple took on added significance. Drick shook off the home run like a fly and struck out the clean-up hitter before inducing a grounder for the second out. Taylor Keefe added more drama when she hit a two-out single, but Drick remained locked in. She froze the next hitter with a pitch on the outside corner and the dream had become reality.

“I was kind of thanking my lucky stars that no one was on base before she hit that (home run), but I was like ‘OK, I got that out of my system, now I have to bear down and get these last three outs,” Drick said. “It was kind of frustrating that there were no outs, but I knew I had my team behind me. They had my back.”

Soon she had those teammates all around her. Drick was swallowed up in a sea of red as her teammates sprinted toward her and they all celebrated inside the pitching circle. Chartiers-Houston defeated Montgomery, 4-1, in the state championship, but that outcome could never diminish what this moment mean to Drick, her teammates and their town.

“What it has done is raise the level of play and the kids know they can do it and it’s fun,” Weaver said. “I can’t say enough about these girls. They work hard, they’re coachable and they do everything you ask of them.

“It’s a special group.”

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