UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A pair of teams that on paper look like mirror images of each other will play for the PIAA Class 1A softball title at 11 a.m. Friday, June 14, when District 9 champion DuBois Central Catholic takes on District 11 champion Williams Valley at Beard Field at the Nittany Lion Softball Park on the campus of Penn State University.
(Photo by Jared Bakaysa of JB Graphics. See more of Bakaysa’s work here)
Williams Valley, which is making its fourth straight trip to the PIAA Class 1A title game and its fifth since 2013 – with titles in 2013 and 2016 – enters the game at 26-2. DCC, which is making its first appearance in the championship game, comes in with a mark that technically looks only ok at 17-9 but in reality is 26-0 with the Lady Cardinals not losing a game played on the field but having had to forfeit nine games early in the season when paperwork on a transfer player wasn’t filled out properly.
Both teams get the job done with offense.
The Lady Vikings are hitting .440 as a team and have cranked 34 home runs while collecting 118 extra-base hits and averaging 11.7 runs per game.
DCC is hitting .498 as a team and has hit 28 homes runs while collecting 131 extra-base hits and averaging 13.8 runs per game.
“It’s kind of weird,” DCC manager George Heigel said. “They look very similar to us. They seem to have a good spread of talent from a grade standpoint. We are very similar. They are a solid team. They look like a pretty good team.”
Williams Valley has run roughshod over its PIAA competition outscoring its opponents 43-5 in three games 10-run-ruling each of its three opponents. That includes a 15-1, five-inning win over Millersburg in the semifinals.
DCC has gone the other direction winning a pair of one-run games, including a 3-2 win over West Greene in the semifinals.
But Heigel said he doesn’t want to get too caught up in the comparisons.
“You can get caught in all of it,” Heigel said. “It’s a matter of if we hit the ball and defense. We need to keep it simple.”
DCC features a lineup that can get the ball one through nine with five starters hitting over .500 led by senior pitcher/second baseman Ashley Wruble, who is hitting .643 with six home runs, seven triples, 10 doubles and a team-leading 46 RBIs.
“I think she is one of the best players I have ever coached, and I coached a travel team that went to the NSA World Series in Alabama,” Heigel said. “I have coached some pretty good players, and she is a Division I hitter. It’s scary to pitch to her in practice, even from behind an L screen. The ball comes off her bat so fast. I look for her to have a big game. She has worked hard. She is purely talented.”
Wruble’s two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning of the PIAA quarterfinal game against Claysburg-Kimmel tied the game at five, and DCC went on to win 6-5 in extra-innings on a base hit by freshman Avery Sickeri.
Sickeri, the third baseman and the daughter of former Brockway stud football player Justin Sickeri, is one of the over-.500 hitters for the Lady Cardinals hitting .570 with five homers and 33 RBIs.
Her and Wruble are joined in the .500 club by sophomore designated player Shyanne Lundy (.579, 13 RBIs), junior second baseman/outfielder Maia Cogley (.530, 24 RBIs) and sophomore catcher Mia Meholick (.512, 7 HRs, 41 RBIs).
DCC’s lineup also features junior shortstop Shay Gulvas (.489, 3 HRs, 34 RBIs), whose leadoff home run in the third inning broke a two-all tie in the West Greene game, senior first baseman Alyssa Bittner (.403, 22 RBIs), senior outfielder Carley Semancik (.494, 4 HR, 35 RBIs) and junior centerfielder Jordy Kosko (.415, 2 HR, 30 RBIs).
“(The hitting) has manifested itself,” Heigel said. “We have hitters now. We try to keep hitting basic. In my philosophy, we stress two things – swing hard and keep your head still. Everybody gets caught up in things like where your back elbow slot is and all this other stuff kids get taught. All we teach in our program is to swing hard, swing for the fence and keep your head still. When we start fall ball that is the first message we give to the young kids. When we do breakdown drills and station, if you aren’t doing your work with all the velocity in your swing, I stop them and talk to them. We stress it and stress it.”
Heigel also credits the work the players have put in the weight room as another key to the offensive success.
“I think the weight room has helped us too,” Heigel said. “We do 26 weeks in the weight room in six-week intervals. We do a lot of core work but also arm, chest and back, normal exercises with all the weight room activity. And we do a lot of squats and a lot of leg work. The girls buy into. It’s all voluntary, but we get 14, 15, 16 girls in the offseason. They work hard and sweat and enjoy it. They have all bought into it. I give a lot of credit to the improved bats and bat speed to the weight room and core work we do.”
While DCC has hit the ball well all year, Heigel is a little concerned that the bats haven’t really been as strong in the past two games.
“We are going to have to hit,” Heigel said. “The last two games, we have gotten away from the striking the ball solidly. We got through the quarterfinals and the semifinals without our bats heating up. I am hoping Friday they fire on all cylinders one through nine and they start stroking the way they can.”
Along those lines, Heigel had the Lady Cardinals working hard on hitting in the days leading up to the title game.
“I gave them a lot of swings (Wednesday) and we are going to take swings indoors Thursday,” Heigel said during his pregame interview Wednesday. “We are going to give them a bunch of swings for about two hours before we leave (for State College). Hopefully, we start hitting the ball again.”
DCC is going to have to hit to keep up with the Williams Valley offense that is led by junior pitcher/left fielder Stevie Unger, who is hitting .549 with eight home runs, 17 doubles, three triples and 52 RBIs.
Six additional Lady Vikings starters are all over .400 led by first baseman Maddy Bordner (.479, 9 HRs, 39 RBIs). Second baseman Jamie Neiman is hitting .471 with four dingers and 30 RBIs, shortstop Kenna Ferron is batting .460 with 23 RBI, centerfielder Mya Achenbach comes in at .458 with six homers and 34 RBIs, left fielder/pitcher Emma Crisswell hits .427 with 17 RBIs and third baseman Alex Bogle hits .411 with 29 RBIs. Catcher Grace Hoffman (.354, 21 RBIs) and designated player Tori Rabuck (.342, 24 RBIs) round out the usual starting nine for Williams Valley.
Williams Valley seems to rotate its pitchers between Unger and Crisswell.
Crisswell pitched the District 11 playoff opener against Mahanoy Area (10-3 win) April 24 and then the PIAA quarterfinal victory over Old Forge (14-0) June 6.
Unger, meanwhile, threw in the 4-0 win over Nativity BVM in the District 11 title game May 31 and then started a pair of PIAA playoff victories – June 3 vs. Bristol (14-4) and Tuesday vs. Millersburg.
It will be interesting to see if manager Ryan Underkoffler continues the rotation and goes with Crisswell or sticks with Unger.
Both pitchers have similar numbers.
Unger is 12-2 on the year with a 2.13 ERA. In 79 innings pitched she has given up 2r runs, 23 earned, on 57 hits and 28 walks while striking out 113 and hitting one batter. Opponents are batting .195 off her.
Crisswell is a perfect 12-0 with a 2.19 ERA. In 70 ⅓ innings of work she has given up 22 runs, 20 earned, on 35 hits, 14 walks and a hit batter while striking out 108. Opponents are hitting .142 against her.
While its anyone’s guess which direction Williams Valley will go in, look for DCC to continue to split its pitching with Wruble starting and freshman Morgan Tyler entering the game around the third or fourth inning.
That has been a formula of great success for the Lady Cardinals this year and something Heigel believes has been a key to his team’s success.
“I am convinced there is a value to changing pitchers and changing looks,” Heigel said. “That’s really what is driving the thought process. I want Wruble to try to get through the batting order two times and use her changeup. We want her to throw her changeup because of how effective it is. It is an effective pitch. Morgan then comes in with her speed, and it is hard to catch up to her. She throws her spin pitches as fast as her fastball, which is somewhat unusual.”
Heigel credits Wruble’s team-first attitude as one of the reasons splitting the pitchers has worked.
“I give her credit for what I have tasked her to do from a pitching standpoint,” Heigel said. “I told her when Riley (Assalone) was the pitcher when she was a freshman and sophomore that the ball was hers the next two years. Then we got this ninth-grade phenom, and I was concerned with how (Wruble) would feel. To her credit, she accepted it and embraced it. She embraces what we are trying to do, and I see such value in splitting up the game. Nobody else does it so nobody is prepared for it.”
- DCC is trying to become the fifth District 9 team to win a PIAA Champion and the second in two years after Punxsutawney won the Class 4A title last season. ECC won in 2015 in Class 1A and Curwensville took home Class 1A titles in 2007 and 2009.
- The Lady Cardinals are the fourth D9 team to advance to the PIAA Softball title game in the last five years. ECC won the 2015 Class 1A title. Moniteau lost in the Class 2A game in 2016 and Punxsutawney won last season. DCC is the eighth D9 team to reach a PIAA title game.
ROAD TO THE CLASS 1A TITLE GAME
May 24 – District 11 Semifinals: Williams Valley 10, Mahanoy 3
May 31 – District 11 Championship Game: Williams Valley 4, Nativity BVM 0
June 3 – PIAA First Round: Williams Valley 14, Bristol 4, 5 innings
June 6 – PIAA Quarterfinals: Williams Valley 14, Old Forge 0, 6 innings
June 11 – PIAA Semifinals: Williams Valley 15, Millersburg 1, 5 innings
DUBOIS CENTRAL CATHOLIC
May 21 – District 9 Quarterfinals: DCC 15, Coudersport 3, 5 innings
May 24 – District 9 Semifinals: DCC 22, Otto-Eldred 8
May 29 – District 9 Championship Game: DCC 7, Clarion 2
June 3 – PIAA First Round: DCC 14, Leechburg 4, 6 innings
June 6 – PIAA Quarterfinals: DCC 6, Claysburg-Kimmel 5, 9 innings
June 11 – PIAA Semifinals: DCC 3, West Greene 2
DISTRICT 9 SOFTBALL TEAMS TO REACH THE PIAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
2019 – DuBois Central Catholic (Class 1A) vs. Williams Valley (TBA)
2018 – Punxsutawney (Class 4A) – Beat Bethlehem Catholic, 2-0
2016 – Moniteau (Class 2A) – Lost to Holy Redeemer, 9-3
2015 – Elk County Catholic (Class 1A) – Beat Conemaugh Valley, 7-0
2011 – Clarion (Class 1A) – Lost to Minersville, 6-1
2009 – Curwensville (Class 1A) – Beat Old Forge, 1-0
2007 – Curwensville (Class 1A) – Beat Upper Dauphin, 7-3
2006 – Punxsutawney (Class 3A) – Lost to Donegal, 3-0