Mid-season turnaround boosted Blairsville softball to playoffs
If there is one thing Frank Harsh wants after the Blairsville Lady Bobcats' season-ending 8-2 loss to Penn Cambria last Thursday, it would be another crack at being the softball team's coach next season."There was a point in our season when we were 2-6 in the conference," said Harsh, "and we finished up with an 8-6 record in our league. We got off to a slow start because there was a learning curve when adapting to me and my system, but once they bought into what I was trying to do, good things started to happen."Those good things were winning eight of their last nine games and earning a District 6 playoff spot. As the 13th seed, Blairsville's bad luck had them matched up in the first round of Class AA play with Penn Cambria (16-1). The Panthers' sole loss was to Richland in the second game of their season, but they were seeded fourth out of 16 teams because of a scheduling snafu before the cutoff date."The jitters may have played a part in the unusual amount of errors that we made in the field, and then maybe we got flustered, which caused more errors," said Harsh of last Thursday's loss.Taking advantage of Penn Cambria's slow start, the Bobcats jumped out to an early lead. But, "Before we knew it we gave up four unearned runs by the fourth inning, and we were down 5-2. In the fifth inning, they got some two-out lightning and added on three more runs," Harsh said.He said his team continued to play with confidence and hit the ball hard but "just right at them," thus ending a season with a critical turning point that gained momentum as it developed."We saw a positive progression as the season played out," said Harsh. "It was like night and day when comparing the beginning of our season to how we finished up. We had three girls batting .400 or better with senior Zoe Peace leading with a .450 average."If Harsh returns, he will be coming back with only three returners in his starting lineup, junior pitcher Emily Okopal, junior catcher Samantha Harsh and freshman Shelby Oswald at third."Emily has the second highest average on the team, and she pitched all 10 of our wins," the coach said, adding, "Shelby is tremendous at the plate with a .360 average while leading our team in RBIs with 22."Other up-and-comers, freshman Abby Peace from Saltsburg and shortstop junior MacKenzie Livingston, worked their way into the lineup and produced results that they are sure to build on next season.If there is any disappointment, it is perhaps the fact that minor glitches hampered the team early on in the season. "We are a much better team than our record suggests," said Harsh. "But, at the end of the season, I met with each and every player individually and told them how proud I was of them and how much their progression meant to the team's overall successes."We are graduating seven girls, and they will be hard to replace. Hopefully, we can pick up some more girls who didn't come out this year and our returners will provide the leadership and discipline that we are always looking for."Tessa and Tiffany Lingenfelter, Marcy Snell, Amanda Borbonus and Zoe Peace are key seniors who are graduating and leaving gaps for Harsh to fill."I had a lot of fun this season, and I'd like to stay with the team and at least see the freshmen that started with me play all the way through. The ultimate decision is out of my control and in the (school) board's hands, but I would really enjoy coming back and coaching these girls."