South Side Beaver softball keeps focus simple for Class 2A title game
One of the first things a team learns when navigating the PIAA softball bracket is it can be more beneficial to focus on what they do, rather than spending precious time and energy searching for information on a team from the other side of the state.
Gathering tiny bits of data on opponents from outside the WPIAL is a minor dilemma for South Side Beaver coach Amy Pieto, but she won't lost any sleep over it.
She is focused on her team's mindset.
“When it comes right down to it, it's all about making sure you play your game than changing the way you play for someone else,” said Pieto, who is in her third season as the Rams' coach. “We don't know much about them. Everybody says they're a great team but we don't know that much about them.”
“Them” refers to District 11 champion Minersville (19-1), which South Side Beaver (20-3) will meet in the PIAA Class 2A championship at 11 a.m. Thursday at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park.
For the Rams, a trip to the finals is a milestone.
“We only have 10 players, everybody's good and ready for the game,” Pieto said. “It's a huge thing because it's the first time that South Side Beaver has gone this far. They're making history”
The more than three-hour trip will mark the second time in 10 days South Side Beaver made the journey to Penn State. South Side Beaver was victorious in its first visit when it knocked off District 6 champion Conemaugh Valley, 6-4, in the first round June 5.
“I think everybody is so excited to have made it this far,” Pieto said. “The team, themselves, are a very relaxed group of girls, and it shows.”
Pieto will put her No. 1 pitcher, McKenna Smith, into the circle against the Battlin' Miners. Smith, a Cedarville (Ohio) recruit, holds a 19-2 record with one of her loses coming against Frazier (2-0) in the WPIAL Class 2A championship.
Pieto said the WPIAL title game loss stung but her team had no time to dwell on it as the PIAA bracket started soon after. The loss was also pivotal because it forced the Rams to recalibrate their focus back onto themselves and not so much their opponents.
“I think that everybody was upset, of course, especially for the seniors,” Pieto said. “We started to focus more on our hitting because in (the WPIAL championship) game we didn't hit at all.”
In addition to a pitching, Pieto said she relies on her leadoff batter to set the tone. Regan Hozak is batting .349, and the team has a .375 batting average and averages 6.3 runs per game.
“(Hozak's) really gotten hot more towards the end of the season, more than she was at the beginning,” Pieto said.
Hozak is also Pieto's No. 2 pitcher. She got the start in Monday's 7-2 semifinal win over WPIAL rival Chartiers-Houston.
Senior shortstop Hunter Hand, will bat cleanup. The Marist recruit leads the Lady Rams in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.536), runs scored (27), and RBIs (27), while striking out just three times in 74 plate appearances.
While South Side is making history, Minersville has a long PIAA postseason tradition. Tucked away in the center of Schuylkill County, the Battlin' Miners have tallied seven Class A District 11 titles from 2003-13. Minersville got bumped up to Class 2A after the recent PIAA reclassification.
The Battlin' Miners received a first-round bye and went straight into the District 11 championship game, where they won an eighth district title with a 3-0 win over Schuylkill Haven.
“They have nine state titles and going for a 10th,” Pieto said. “Whatever you would Google about them is all that we know. I talked to one coach, and he told me a little bit about their pitcher but it's all subjective.”
A quick look at Minersville's run through the PIAA bracket and hitting jumps out. The Battlin' Miners average 11 runs.
When asked what the strength of this year's team is, Pieto said it's been her team's ability to play error-free softball. She also said the team is extremely close and plays for each other.
“I think they just enjoy playing so much and they just want to keep playing,” Pieto said. “It's a real team effort.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.