South Park softball celebrates historic season
The South Park softball team made a historic run through the WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A playoffs.
The Eagles won the first state title in softball in school history this year with a 4-2 win over Pine Grove in the rain-interrupted PIAA finals at Penn State's Beard Field.
“I am very proud of our team's performance throughout the season, as well as into the state finals,” coach Larry Mercurio said. “Our success was based mostly on solid pitching, teamwork, aggressive ball and discipline at the plate. Our girls are patient and they swing at good pitches, which is key to this game.
“Winning a state championship for South Park High School is a true honor. The support our team received from the South Park High School, as well as our boosters program, is unmeasurable. They really made our road smoother.”
After socking Freeport, 13-3, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, South Park, the WPIAL runner-up in 2016, dropped a 7-4 decision to Deer Lakes in the semifinal round.
The Eagles then edged section foe Southmoreland, 4-3, in the consolation round to gain a berth in the PIAA tournament, where they cruised past Titusville, 16-1; Ellwood City, 11-0; and Phillipsburg-Osceola, 4-0; prior to the finals.
“Our athletes kept their heads up and continued to work hard after the disappointing loss to Deer Lakes,” Mercurio said. “To bounce back from that game and allow only six hits and one run in three PIAA games is nothing short of amazing. It just shows the drive of this team.
“We really didn't think about states, and to be honest, we were a little disappointed about having to play the PIAA consolation game, but that was just us being disappointed in our performance at WPIALs. We recovered, drove forward and focused on the next task at hand — states. One we got our momentum, we weren't going to be stopped, especially with our senior pitcher leading the team.”
South Park's senior hurler Justine Dean struck out two in a complete-game performance in the win against Pine Grove. The right-handed hurler allowed just four runs in four PIAA playoff games, and, on the season, posted a 1.79 earned-run average with 131 strikeouts.
South Park ended up with a 21-3 record, including a 4-0 mark in the state playoffs.
The Eagles' starting lineup consisted of one senior, two juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen.
Along with Dean, the starters were juniors Katlyn Pavlick, at third base, and Laura Shinavski, in right field; sophomores Kaitlyn Morrison, at shortstop, Jess Dean, at first base, Charlyn Blackburn, at catcher; and Jill Davison, a designated hitter; plus freshmen Taylor Glowa (second base), Grace Albitz (center field) and Chelsea Carozza (left field).
Pavlick and Jess Dean led the team offensively with .600 and 500 batting averages. Justine Dean (.493), Morrison (.458) and Blackburn (.422) were .400 hitters, followed by Carozza (.381), Davison (.340), Glowa (.324) and Albitz (.317).
Pavlick led the team in virtually every offensive category, including average, on-base percentage (.626), slugging percentage (1.175), hits (48), singles (26), doubles (8-tie), triples (4), home runs (10), RBIs (45) and runs (41). She also was a perfect 23 for 23 in stolen base attempts, and struck out only once all season.
“I'm very proud of how our season turned out,” Pavlick said. “We had to replace two Division I players and four senior starters overall, so we had a big hole to fill. We worked really hard during the winter months, practicing daily after school and even sometimes on weekends.”
Pavlick, who was a Tribune-Review athlete of the week late in the season, plans to continue her career at Pitt. She is a member of the National Honor Society (with a 4.2 grade-point average) and Interact Board at South Park.
“We had a lot of new talent in the freshman class this year, and we definitely had good chemistry from the beginning,” she said. “We had a lot of fun on and off the field, getting to know each other and becoming close friends. This surely carried onto the field. I think this contributed a lot to our success. It was great for everyone to support each other and encourage teammates to do their best, and we definitely did that.”
Pavlick and Morrison collected three hits apiece against Pine Grove (25-3), the District 11 champion.
South Park took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, then Pine Grove scored twice in the bottom of the second. The game remained tied until the fifth inning when Blackburn's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded drove in Morrison.
The Eagles added an insurance run in the seventh when Pavlick scored on a passed ball.
“I knew going into the 2017 season that we could return to both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs,” Pavlick said. “It would all come down to how much we wanted it and how hard we worked. Although we fell short in the WPIAL semifinal game, we continued to compete through the rest of the playoffs. I think the WPIAL (playoff) loss motivated us; we knew we were a better team than we showed in our semifinal game.
“We bounced back from that and continued to work hard. We stuck to the fundamentals and kept playing like we know how. I think our big key to success in the state playoffs was getting ahead early in the games. We put up runs early in all of our games. It was very exciting for all of us to be the first team in South Park softball history to advance to the state championship game. We definitely came prepared and battled through the whole game, getting key hits when we needed, and being defensively sound. Even with a 3 1⁄2-hour rain delay, we managed to stay focused and dominate defensively the entire game. It was very cool that the (South Park) baseball team also advanced to the championship as well, being that a WPIAL school hasn't sent both teams to the state championship since 1987.”
Morrison, who has made a verbal commitment to Penn State, was thrilled to be able to clinch the PIAA championship at Beard Field.
“I think this season was like a roller coaster with its ups and down,” Morrison said. “We were playing so well in the WPIAL playoffs, and to not play a good game and get beat was very hard to accept for all of us. I think maybe we made a mistake and overlooked a good Deer Lakes team because we really wanted a rematch with Ellwood City after last year's defeat (in the WPIAL finals). We knew we had to beat Southmoreland for a third time, which is never easy; then, being the third seed, we would have to beat four district champions in a row to win it all. We got our shot at Ellwood City. We were so pumped for that game and probably played our best game of the year against them. That game built a ton of confidence within the team.
“I loved that the final game was at Beard Field. I have watched a ton of college games there already, and dreamed that I could play for the state title there one day. After beating Phillipsburg-Oscela, it became true. I honestly can't believe we are state champions, and to do it at PSU was icing on the cake.”
Jess Dean, Justine's younger sister, helped set the tone in games this season as the Eagles' leadoff hitter.
“It was an amazing season,” she said. “Winning the state championship means a lot to us because we worked hard for it, and we are really close. Coach Larry has been a great coach throughout this whole season, and was always positive about everything. He taught us all a lot, and I can't wait to play next year.”
Pavlick echoed her teammate's sentiments.
“Overall, I believe we had a successful season and next year we look to pick up right where we left off,” she said. “Hopefully next year we can clinch a WPIAL championship and continue to the PIAA playoffs to claim another state title.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.