SIDMAN — When his team went on a five-game losing skid to close out the regular season, Philipsburg-Osceola softball coach Steve Frank wasn’t even sure if his team would qualify for the District 6 Class 3A playoffs.
While the eighth-seeded Lady Mountaineers saw their season come to a close with a 2-0 loss to No. 4 Forest Hills Thursday, Frank highlighted the team’s resiliency that led it so deep into the postseason.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” said Frank, whose Lady Mounties upended top-seed Central Cambria on Monday to advance to the semifinals. “We just wanted the girls to come in here and compete. They continued to battle, and they never gave up. That’s all we could ask for.”
Philipsburg (7-13) ran into a burning hot pitcher in Thursday’s semifinal as Forest Hills sophomore Avery Smiach fanned 15 and allowed only three hits.
The Lady Mounties had opportunities throughout the game to break onto the scoring sheet, but Smiach’s dominance in the circle changed the outcome of the game.
Mykenna Bryan and Jocey Williams were both plunked by Smiach, and after they advanced to second and third with no outs, it appeared that the Mounties were in prime position to score.
Smiach, however, had other plans.
The Rangers’ righty collected herself and struck out the next three batters she faced to get herself out of the jam and keep Philipsburg scoreless.
“Their pitcher was excellent today,” Frank said. “She gave us troubles all day.”
While Forest Hills had a dominant pitcher, Philipsburg earned its fair share of outs, too.
Mountaineers pitcher Alivia Bizzarri struck out six, including three-straight in the bottom of the second inning, to keep the Rangers guessing as well.
“Alivia kept us in it,” Frank said. “We just didn’t get the timely hits that we needed. We had runners, but we couldn’t find a hit when we needed it the most.”
Using its pitcher as a stepping stone, Forest Hills eventually broke the tie in the fifth inning.
Grace Beyer and Morgan Gdula both singled, but with two outs and with her team desperate for a timely hit, Smiach crushed a grounder that hopped past first base and into the outfield, which allowed enough time for Beyer to score as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead.
“We had to get girls on base to try and get into scoring position,” Forest Hills coach Krista Hershberger said. “Whenever Avery came up, we knew this was our opportunity because we had speed with Grace (Beyer) at second. We just needed a hit in the outfield, and we got it. That gave us the run we needed.”
With the game on the line, Philipsburg had its best scoring opportunity in the sixth inning.
Maddy Hampton was walked to open the inning, and after a bunt by Emily Gutskey moved her to second, she continued to third off a single into center field by Payton Barnett.
Forest Hills’ defense, however, shut the Mounties down once more.
Hampton was tagged out at home after Bizzarri grounded into a fielder’s choice, and with two outs, Smiach battled through a long at-bat with Bryan and eventually earned the strikeout to keep the shutout entact.
“It seemed like they were right on the cusp of scoring all day,” Hershberger said. “They had runners in scoring position a couple times. We just had to hold our own and make sure we didn’t let them string their hits together.”
After Forest Hills’ Aislinn Myers hit a solo home run to extend the lead to two, Philipsburg made a last-ditch effort in the seventh inning.
Abby Vaux, who struck out twice in her earlier at bats, doubled in the leadoff as the Mounties’ dugout began to wake up.
Smiach, however, doubled down and fanned the next three batters to close out the game and send the Rangers to the district title game.
The loss ended a back-and-forth season for the Mountaineers.
Philipsburg loses Bryan, Vaux, Williams and Emily Herr to graduation.
“We started the year out good but had a hiccup for about a month,” Frank said. “We got back rolling again, but things fell apart at the end of the year. But we’re really happy that these girls came into the playoffs, competed and gave it everything they could.”
Gustkey 2b 2010, Barnett rf 3010, Bizzari p 3010, Bryan 3b 2000, Williams c 2010, Vaux 1b 3000, Jarrett dp 3000, Herr cf 3000, Hampton ss 1000, Havens lf (flex) 0000. Totals: 22-0-4-0.
Mo. Gdula ss 2000, Smiach p 3010, My. Gdula c 2000, Myers 3b 3121, Spangler 1b 3000, Maul 2b 3000, Matheison dp 2000, G. Beyer lf 3110, M. Beyer cf 2000, Leventry rf (flex) 0000. Totals: 23-2-4-1.
Score by Innings
P-O 000 000 0—0 4 3
Forest Hills 000 011 x—2 4 0
Errors—Bizzarri, Gustkey, Vaux. LOB—Philipsburg-Osceola 5, Forest Hills 6. DP—Forest Hills 1. 2B—Gustkey, Williams. HR—Myers (solo, 6th). SAC—Gustkey. SB—Barnett. CS—Smiach (by Williams). HBP—Bryan, Williams (by Smiach).
Philipsburg-Osceola: Bizzarri—6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO.
Forest Hills: Smiach—7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 15 SO.