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Montgomery seniors have come a long way

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery's Kaylie Snyder snags a fly ball to center field during their game against Jersey Shore on Tuesday.

Many might look at this Montgomery softball senior class and think their journey began as freshmen.

That may be when they first started playing high school softball, but these players have been competing together since they first put on a pair of cleats. They have laughed, cried and made lifetime memories.

Oh yeah, they also have won. A lot.

This group is the most decorated in program history and helped Montgomery make history last Tuesday when it defeated Cowanesque Valley and captured a second straight District 4 Class A championship. No Red Raider team had ever repeated before, so this group continues breaking new ground.

As exciting as all that is, just playing together again may be the most important thing right now, even bigger than postseason glory. That is what Montgomery is pursuing when the state tournament opens Monday, but the Raiders are also playing for more time.

Second chances do not come often, but these eight senior starters and Montgomery have one Monday when it plays defending state champion Tri-Valley. It felt like these two were on a collision course to meet again ever since Tri-Valley won a 4-3, eight-inning thriller in last year’s state quarterfinals and now they meet again.

This looks like a blockbuster showdown, but that can wait. The purpose of this column really is to look how far these seniors have come before breaking down Monday’s contest as it draws closer.

These players have excelled from the youth level on there was a buzz surrounding them when they arrived in high school for the 2018-19 year. Right on cue, they made their mark. Several current starters also started on that 2019 squad which captured a Mid-Penn title and reached both the district final and state tournament for the first time since 2010.

Unfortunately, one can only wonder what would have happened in 2020. Most of the starters would have returned from that district finalist but the start of the pandemic wiped it out. Unfazed, Montgomery kept working and turned 2021 into one of the best sports seasons in Mongomery history.

The Raiders repeated as league champions, won their first district title since 2010 and came within two outs of reaching the state’s Final 4. Considering Tri-Valley went on to win the state title, Montgomery may have been the second or third best team in the state. Nonetheless, the 22 wins were the second-most in program history, trailing only the 24 won by the 2010 state finalist team.

Montgomery went from hunter to hunted this season with everyone in a loaded District 4 field looking to block a repeat. These past two seasons coach Chris Glenn, now a four-time district champion, and athletic director Mike Snyder have done a nice job building a demanding non-conference schedule. So, some might have been fooled into thinking Montgomery was not as strong this season since it went 15-4 during the regular season following last year’s 22-2 campaign.

But those losses all were to strong teams and made Montgomery better. The big picture always was in focus and that strategy again has paid off. The Raiders romped to a third straight Mid-Penn title before edging 18-win Bucktail, 1-0 and completing the district repeat against 18-win Cowanesque Valley.

“I feel like going into this season everyone expected us to go so far because we were there last year and we didn’t really lose anybody, but I feel like they forgot about us,” senior left fielder Courtney Smith said following the Bucktail win. “I feel like we’re proving ourselves by going this far and proving that we still are that team.”

Maybe they are better than that 2021 team. Time will tell, but the opportunity is there.

Regardless, look at what this senior group has done. In three seasons, it has three league titles, two district crowns and three state tournament appearances. The seniors are 58-12 during that time and have won 40 straight league games.

Forget about this group? Montgomery likely never will because it is one of the best in any sport in school history.

For the players who have competed and the parents and fans who have followed them from the start, it has been an unforgettable journey. Now, Montgomery is hoping to create some more memorable moments while they still can.

“Only three of us will be playing in college, so most of us will be done playing,” pitcher Faith Persing said following a two-hit shutout against Bucktail. “We’ve played together so long that it’s going to be sad when it ends but we’re hoping it doesn’t end for a long time.”

Enjoy this group while you can, Montgomery. It might be a long time until you see one this special again.

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