A day before St. John Neumann played its first-ever postseason softball game, coach Ray Perchinski lined up his players one by one so everyone could get a good look. Those people then looked at battered players featuring bruises, cuts and scrapes.
Senior shortstop Kayla Henderson was in even worse shape, playing the past two weeks with a possible broken foot. Perchinski wanted Henderson to see the doctor but the team leader refused. She did not want to risk a bad diagnosis and miss the remaining games. That is heart and toughness.
That is Neumann softball.
This gutty team that nearly had no season because of a player shortage, won a program-record 10 games, reached the postseason and nearly made it to the semifinals before losing, 3-1, at Muncy last Thursday.
"We had our awards banquet and I said, 'everybody look at these girls. One girl is torn up from here to there. The next one is bruised up all over and they are all really banged up but they keep playing hard,'" Perchinski said. "It was a great season and for them to do what they did was really amazing."
The season is over but this team's legacy will endure. It is Neumann's best softball team ever, and more impressive than the wins and the playoff appearance is how the Knights earned them. Nothing came easy, but the Knights continued to find ways and recorded the biggest win in program history when they rallied from three two-run deficits and edged Muncy, 8-7, in nine innings at Elm Park last month.
During that game, pitcher Christina Mignot (nine wins, 1.59 ERA, 158 strikeouts) took a wicked line drive off her thigh and had a softball-sized welt there after the game ended. But after a few moments she bounced back and resumed throwing, striking out 11 and earning the win. Between her and Henderson playing through her pain, that was Neumann's season in a nutshell.
That is why this is the team that showed future Knights that anything is possible.
Third-seeded Muncy (15-6) faces No. 2 Southern Columbia (19-2) in Tuesday's Class A semifinals at Elm Park. The Indians are hoping to exact revenge after losing to the HAC-III champions twice during the regular season. Muncy lost 7-3 and 5-2 and had its chances both times, but hurt itself with some costly defensive mistakes.
"We're getting closer each time so I feel like this is our time now to come out on top," Muncy coach Mallory Hafer said.
"If we can just cut the errors I think we have a chance to do it," pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter said. "I have a good feeling about it. I think we can do it."
Kustanbauter pitched a one-hit gem against Neumann, allowing only a bunt single and striking out seven. Soon to be four-time all-state selection Hannah Cole hit a two-run home run and Jaylan Jones made two potential run-saving throws from right field.
The unsung hero, though, might have been catcher Crystal Good. The sophomore is outstanding behind the plate, possessing a good arm, quick reflexes and quality knowledge of each situation that arises. Just as important, Good has grown into a leader behind the plate and is adept at handling Muncy's young pitchers.
"Crystal Good has been phenomenal back there letting her (Kustanbauter) know this is what's happening, this is what the umpire is calling, things like that," Hafer said. "She is really taking the lead back there."
FOR THE DEFENSE
Since his freshman year, South Williamsport first baseman Ryan Orgitano has generated buzz with his offense. That has never been more so than this year as the junior is hitting .654 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. Overlooked often, is how good Origtano is defensively. This is one slugger who is anything but one-dimensional.
Orgitano put on a defensive clinic during Friday's District 4 Class AA quarterfinal win over Montoursville. He made two outstanding scoops on low throws and an acrobatic catch and tag on another. Those plays saved three runners from reaching base and prevented three different rallies from starting.
"Even if it's not with the bat, to do it with the glove it's a lot of fun going out there, making a play and picking everybody up," Orgitano said. "If you pick somebody up they'll pick you up eventually and that's what we do."
Orgitano has made only one error in 21 games and is a huge reason South (18-3) is a HAC-III champion and preparing to face Danville in Tuesday's district semifinals. The three-year starter put in a lot of work on the field and in the weight room during the offseason and the result is the best season of his scholastic career. Strong and agile, Orgitano made his best play against Montoursville in the fifth inning when he leapt high and caught an errant throw.
As Orgitano was landing he reached out and tagged Ryan Mondell for the out in one motion. Four outs later, South was moving on to Bowman Field. Orgitano has been a vacuum at first base, but he also has become a safety net and is playing as well defensively as anyone in the district.
"Ryan is a baseball player through and through. He's a great player, but he also mentally knows the game," South coach Shawn Finn said. "He's as solid as they come over there. In any division I would take him over anyone around. He saves a lot of errors and he's a great baseball player. I love coaching the kid."
GOING ALL OUT
Hughesville center fielder Jesse Hulien was a big reason Hughesville won 14 games and reached the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. He also has been at the center of the best run in Hughesville baseball history with the Spartans twice tying the program record for wins and winning four playoff games in the past three seasons.
The senior provided not only steady offense and defense this season, but also excellent leadership and that is why it was especially a shame that his season ended with an injury during Friday's 6-1 quarterfinal loss at Loyalsock. Hulien separated his shoulder midway through the game diving for a ball while showing the all-out effort that has epitomized his scholsatic career.
Most people did not know it, but Hulien showed a lot of guts playing at all this season battling a painful back injury the entire time but never missing a game. Hughesville coach Casey Waller has coached a lot of outstanding baseball players during his coaching career there and at Loyalsock. The way you know he really likes a player is when he describes him as a gamer. Not surprisingly, he often described Hulien that way.
"Jesse's had a great year," Waller said. "It's tough to end his senior season with a separated shoulder and a loss on top of it, but Jesse's a gamer."
Canton paid back an old nemesis Saturday, thumping Sayre, 5-1, in the District 4 Class A semifinals. The Warriors (16-5) had lost to Sayre in the 2009 and 2010 district championships. Now they are hoping a playoff win over their NTL-East rival leads to an historic moment.
Canton will play either Montgomery (16-2) or Sullivan County (13-8) in Wednesday's championship at Bowman Field. The Warriors are seeking the first district championship in program history after losing three close games in the final since 1999. The team's four seniors have helped Canton reach Bowman Field all four years there and now are hoping to finally leave District 4's baseball mecca holding a championship trophy.
"We've had four straight years in the district semis so hopefully we can turn the corner on this one," Canton coach Scott Rockwell said. "That would be nice."
Sullivan and Montgomery could be in a tough spot against Canton since they have to use up pitching a day before the championship in Tuesday's semifinal at Logue Field. The Griffins likely will start ace Zach Meyer while Montgomery probably will counter with Alex Worthington, who threw a two-hit complete-game the last time those two met. Montgomery is seeking the second district title in program history while Sullivan is having its best season ever.
The Griffins already have won a record amount of games, knocked off defending champion Muncy and won six straight. Tuesday's rematch with Montgomery should be a good one.