By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
With a huge smile on her face, Warrior Run ace Tay Parker almost couldn't contain her excitement after winning another District 4 Class AA title on Friday at Elm Park.
Without question, no one on the Defenders forgets that stinging loss at State College in the 2012 state championship, and Parker, along with her teammates, have one simple goal: "Hopefully this year we win states. (We want to) make it farther than last year," she said.
And obviously the only way to make it farther is to win the whole thing.
That journey begins today as Warrior Run (20-3) faces Holy Redeemer (15-0) in the first round of the Class AA state tournament at Wilkes University .
The first pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Holy Redeemer won the District 2 Class AA title, 4-3, over Holy Cross at Wilkes on Thursday. For the Royals, it marked the first district title in school history.
The showdown is sure to be an intriguing matchup of pitchers.
Holy Redeemer enters the game with pitcher Kaya Swankey fresh off a 16-strikeout performance against Holy Cross, but the Royals will have an extremely tough test with the Defenders batting order.
Warrior Run has arguably one of the deepest and most potent hitting lineups from top to bottom.
The Defenders have seven batters who have at least 15 hits this season, five of which have at least 20. Parker leads the way at 39 hits through 23 games, including a team-high five homers.
Parker has been nothing short of stellar this postseason in the circle too, tossing a 16-strikeout no-hitter against 2012 state finalist Southern Columbia in the Class AA semifinals before giving up only three hits to a potent Loyalsock offense while striking out nine.
The Defenders have given up just one run through three postseason games, a solo home run in the first inning against Wyalusing. Since that solo shot, Parker and Warrior Run have gone 20 straight innings without letting a run cross the plate.
On the year, Parker is the Valley's only pitcher with over 200 strikeouts -- entering states with 251. Warrior Run's all-time strikeout leader is just 10 shy of 900 for her illustrious career.
After last year, the Defenders are more than excited to play in the state tournament again.
"The girls, I'm sure they're going to kick it up a notch," coach Garth Watson said after the 2-0 win over Loyalsock. "They have a goal set and, at this point, they've really proven that they want to fulfill that."
While everyone knows how talented the Defenders are this year, one team that perhaps gets overlooked by opponents is Greenwood .
The Wildcats (8-11) got into the Class A playoffs due to the District 3 points system for playoff berths, putting them in the tournament with a 6-11 record.
Greenwood topped Upper Dauphin in the district semifinals, a team they lost to twice in the regular season, before routing Millersburg in a District 3 Class A final rematch from last year, 13-3, to earn a berth in the PIAA state tournament.
The Wildcats face the District 5 champion, Hyndman Charter, today at Everett Area High School at 4 p.m. in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
Brooke Louden has come around pitching-wise for Greenwood this year and was solid in the District 3 playoffs. And despite having a drop-off record-wise this season after going 14-5 last year, Louden knows that some people overlook the Wildcats simply because of their record.
"I think that definitely happened a lot (this year)," Louden said after the win over Upper Dauphin in the district semifinals.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, their record is not indicative of the quality softball they play.
Sophomore Amy Heggenstaller was named to the Tri-Valley League first team all-star squad, the only Greenwood player to earn the honor, while Katie Osborne was named second team.
Heggenstaller has been solid offensively for Greenwood this year, leading the team in hits.
Greenwood reached the PIAA Class A state semifinals last season, losing to Southern Columbia, and that success at the state level is something the Wildcats want to capture again.