TIONESTA, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It’s an obvious pun, but one that applies these days.
The Forest Fires softball team is red hot.
Scorching hot. Ablaze. Burning District 9 down to the foundation.
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“I 100% trust my team to play with all their heart,” said junior center fielder Emma McFarland. “You go into each game thinking your team has your back, whether you fail or succeed, so I’m not afraid to do anything wrong. That just relieves so much pressure on me and everybody else and lets us play the way we are now.
“If you strike out,” McFarland added, “it’s OK because your teammates are gonna hug you and tell you they love you.”
(Above, Izzy Flick makes a pitch against Karns City earlier this season.)
Forest (13-2) has won eight straight games after bludgeoning Youngville, 15-0 and 19-0, on Friday.
Thursday, Forest rallied from 5-0 down in the third inning to win 6-5 in extras in a continuation of a game against Clarion that began in April.
Earlier in the same day, the Fires gutted out a 2-1 win over Clarion-Limestone.
“Right before our C-L game, our coach (Eric Flick) said, ‘I will be so proud of you if you win the C-L game. Winning the Clarion game will be an extreme bonus. I will be proud of you regardless,’” McFarland said. “Honestly Clarion probably thought we weren’t going to come back and that lit a fire under us.”
Another pun intended.
Forest has been playing with a flame licking at their collective heels, providing supreme motivation.
The Fires, with players from East Forest, West Forest and North Clarion, haven’t had the greatest of history. Last year they made the playoff for the first time in three decades.
For years, East and West Forest were fodders for teams looking for an easy win.
There’s nothing easy about playing Forest these days.
That’s because of a blend of hitting, fielding and pitching that has come together this season, particularly in the last month.
Emma McFarland, a North Clarion student, is batting .511 as the leadoff hitter with 29 runs scored. Her twin sister, Madison McFarland, has a .614 average with two home runs, 25 RBIs and 32 runs scored and has played lights-out defense at shortstop.
Emily Aites, also of North Clarion, and Alexis Oswald of West Forest have hit multiple home runs this season. The lineup, one through nine, is as potent as there is.
But the key has been the development of sophomore pitcher Izzy Flick.
Flick, another West Forest student, has pitched virtually every inning for the Fires this season. She’s 12-2 with a 2.24 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 72 innings.
She has gotten better with each outing. In her last seven games, she’s 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 28 innings.
“She has put her heart out on that field,” Madison McFarland said. “She has worked so hard for us, and we couldn’t be any more proud of her.”
Madison is also proud of how the team has altered perceptions.
She’s already noticed that no one is overlooking Forest these days.
No one, it seems, can prevent the Forest Fires from winning.
“I’m extremely proud of the team,” Madison said. “We’ve worked hard to get here. We’re making a name for Forest that no one has expected for 30, 40 years.”
Madison hopes the team can stay hot.
Next week will be a big one for Forest. The Fires will finish another suspended game, this one against Cranberry. They will also take on Keystone and Brockway to close out the regular season.
Then, it’s off to the playoffs, where the McFarland twins and their hyped teammates hope they can scorch the D9 Earth on the way to a championship.
“We’re hoping to go far in the playoffs,” Madison said. “We got a lot of confidence from this winning streak.”
“It just feels amazing for us to have a new representation of Forest softball,” Emma added. “Now that we’re succeeding so much and people are noticing, it’s pretty neat.”