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Tough games have helped prepare Red Raiders for state games

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery’s Faith Persing throws against Muncy during a game earlier this season. Persing and the Red Raiders are playing in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals today against Tri-Valley.

Montgomery coach Chris Glenn knew his team could be special this season. So did athletic director Mike Snyder.

That is exactly why they did all they could to line up challenging non-conference games. Win or lose, it was all about preparing Montgomery for the postseason and helping this team become the best version of itself.

And, oh, how it has paid off.

Montgomery is a district champion for the first time since 2010. It is playing in the state quarterfinals for just the second time in program history. Playing that demanding late-season schedule is a big win why the Red Raiders (22-1) are one of the state’s top eight Class A teams.

The journey continues today at Central Columbia when Montgomery plays Tri-Valley in the state’s Elite Eight.

“I’m glad that our AD and our coach got together and agreed that we needed some tougher teams,” third baseman Jenna Waring said following Monday’s 7-0 first round win against Old Forge. “They’ve told us many times they did that to prepare us and we played well against those bigger schools.”

Montgomery romped to a second straight Mid-Penn championship, going undefeated in league play. The Raiders won all but four of those 14 games via mercy rule. Those wins were nice, but the three non-conference games following the last conference contest revealed just how good this team could be.

Montgomery started strong when it went on the road and defeated 2019 Class A state champion and current Class AA state quarterfinalist, Williams Valley, 3-2. It followed up with another statement victory, blanking Class AAA state quarterfinalist Central Columbia, 2-0. Montgomery concluded the run by blanking Class AA state qualifier Wyalusing, 3-0.

Each win was an eye-opener. Montgomery showed it can not just play with some of the state’s best teams in any classification, but beat them as well. That all three games were so close to the postseason helped even more. Once in the playoffs, Montgomery has outscored three opponents, 16-0 and has played some of its best softball all season.

“For us the biggest thing is making adjustments. If we don’t get it the first at-bat we’re confident we’re going to get it the second,” first baseman Taylor McRae said. “We can’t get too low on ourselves and we can’t get cocky and get too high. That’s one thing we’ve really worked on.”

Playing those challenging non-conference games helped in that process. Each one has played in a playoff-like atmosphere. Montgomery won in different ways, too. It started strong against Williams Valley, scoring two first-inning runs. It closed strong against Central, scoring twice in the sixth to break a scoreless game. Montgomery went against stacked offenses and some of the state’s best pitchers, including Central ace Mea Consentino who has more than 500 career strikeouts.

“That definitely assists our team a lot,” McRae said. We can either have a late start in our game or a home run right off the bat and everyone just comes alive after that.”

That belief comes from experience. Montgomery respects everyone now, but fears no one. This is a battle-tested team which has become callous to big-game situations against outstanding programs.

At this time of year, that is a huge asset and it certainly helps today as Montgomery faces another super team in Tri-Valley. The Raiders complement that quality with how they approach the game. These are big games, but these players love playing softball and they always want to win, so it’s really no different in that sense.

“A lot of people look at it as a state game. We take it as it’s just another game,” Persing said after the Old Forge victory. “We were 0-0 on the season we said before (Monday) and then we went to 1-0. We just go into every game like it’s nothing different. We know they’re a good team and we know we’re going to have to work like we had to work for this game. We know that going in. We’ll do what we can and just keep playing ball.”

Montgomery has encountered so many different scenarios while playing those tough late-season games. That is exactly why they were played, too. Whatever has come up throughout the playoffs, Montgomery has been ready.

The Raiders started slow against Millville and the game was scoreless through three innings, but it surged late and won, 7-0. Persing then hit leadoff home runs in the last two games as Montgomery started fast. Montgomery has learned to win in games many ways and the offense has surged, producing 22 hits the past two games with literally every player contributing.

The plan Glenn and Snyder made has come together at the perfect time. Iron sharpens iron and a close-knit team has pulled even closer. Montgomery has been through the tough games before and its approach is not changing.

Play hard, enjoy the moment and support each other. That late-season stretch reinforced that philosophy and a game like today is the reward for encountering those challenges.

“They have such a close bond and I think there’s something to be said for a bond like that. That’s what you try to get right away and that’s what those three weeks before the season are for but that was already there so we could get onto other things and that makes our jobs as coaches easier,” Glenn said. “The thing I’m happy with is the girls back each other up. They really do a good job with that.”

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