Road trip brings wins, good memories for Knoch Softball
The first sports team from Knoch ever to play out of state almost didn't want to come home.
Knoch's softball team opened the season with a tournament in Taylor Mill, Ky., about a five-hour drive from Saxonburg.
While the weather wasn't much warmer there, fields were drier and playable, and teams weren't fighting cabin fever while practicing in gymnasiums.
“We took a 15-passenger van. It wasn't the most comfortable ride, but we all jumped in and had a great time,” Knoch coach Tim Knappenberger said. “I don't think there was a boring moment; it's something that really enhanced the high school experience for our girls.”
And while Knoch was rounding third in its fifth game, most of the other WPIAL teams were letting out another collective sigh as they glanced at the 10-day forecast.
But Knoch wasn't the only local team to snub the increasingly annoying Western Pennsylvania weather to get a jump-start on the season — and, potentially, gain a competitive advantage over opponents who were back home twiddling their thumbs and making mud pies.
Mars' softball team played four games at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
The road trips were more than spring training for local teams, especially since they returned to more drab conditions and to the reality that many WPIAL teams still were 0-0 in the standings.
Play has since picked up, albeit slowly.
At one point last week, Knoch had played more games than any baseball or softball team in the WPIAL.
Advantages were gained by playing early, particularly in terms of strategy and simply getting acquainted with teammates in actual outdoor game situations.
Knoch won four of five games against Kentucky teams while hitting .433 with 57 runs. It reached the championship game of the 16-team tournament.
“This is my fifth year coaching, and that was the best experience we've ever had,” Knappenberger said. “I would consider it a perfect trip for everyone involved.”
Teams were greeted with much of the same uncertainty when they returned home.
Knoch had three games scheduled for the week it returned but all of them were canceled.
Booster clubs funded the road trips, with most of the costs covered by fundraising.
Knoch chipped away the old-fashioned way with bake sales, raffles, “and we had a Pets with Santa Night and sold candy canes,” Knappenberger said. “We're hoping to do this trip every year.”
Knappenberger said a parent of one of his players discovered the Kentucky tournament.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.