Double digits have been the tone of the game lately for the Mifflin County softball team. Pitcher Shelby Lyter threw five Ks in the team's 3-2 win over Central Mountain for the District 6 Class AAAA title, but she had a few games throughout the season marked by 10 strikeouts or more. Plus, Mifflin County coach Jack McCurdy says, the Huskies have been averaging 10 to 11 hits per game, so in both the defensive and offensive categories, Mifflin County has double-digit potential.
And these are numbers the Huskies will want to take into the state tournament.
The Huskies - along with Greenwood softball in the Class A tournament and Mount Union baseball in Class AA - will play their first round game today, where they will take on fellow Commonwealth Division competitor Cumberland Valley, who took a 3-2 win over Hempfield in the District 3 consolations for a spot in the state tournament. The game will be played at 5 p.m. at Penn State's Beard Field.
McCurdy said the girls were really feeling the pressure to win the district title - as a whole, no team from Mifflin County has won a district championship since a string of wins between Kishacoquillas and Chief Logan in the 1980s - but now they've taken the time to look ahead to something even bigger.
"I said to them tonight, 'I think we've gone from hoping to win those big games to expecting to win those big games,'" McCurdy said, and this change in perspective couldn't have come at a better time.
From a pitching perspective, Mifflin County has the obvious threat in Lyter, and she's complimented by fellow hurlers Rachel Zimmerman and Taylor Boyer.
McCurdy said he's leaning toward a start from Lyter, and Zimmerman and Boyer will be there to back her up if necessary.
"I think Shelb just gives us the best opportunity right out of the gate," he said.
"If it looks like she's tiring or she's faltering at all, then that's when we always have the second pitcher warmed up."
But behind the Huskies' pitching is a team that has been pounding the ball at the plate all season long, and that's another threat to take into the state tournament.
"I think we've been pretty much averaging 10, 11 hits a game, and that's a trend that I would definitely like to see continue," McCurdy said, and one of the girls behind those numbers is Boyer.
"Taylor's contribution offensively has been monumental for our team. I really like her focusing on just the offensive side of the game," McCurdy said.
In Mifflin County's last game against Cumberland Valley, senior Brooke Wilson rapped in the game winner to give Mifflin County the 5-4 victory in eight innings. In the game, Cumberland Valley's dominant pitcher, Kayla Sullenberger, recorded two strikeouts and gave up seven hits, verses the three strikeouts to five hits she gave out in her team's 9-1 victory over Mifflin County for the Huskies' season opener.
"I think I have a pretty good feel for what she does," McCurdy said of Sullenberger, who is very likely the hurler Mifflin County will face today.
But even if the Huskies have the pitching, the batting and the experience against Sullenberger, what McCurdy and crew have been focusing on is the mental edge to win the game.
"My experience is that the teams that really want it continue to work hard through the second week of June" he said, explaining that this mentality is one he has been fostering as part of the team's mental game.
In the Class A division, Greenwood will take on District 5 champion Hope for Hyndman at 4 p.m. in Everett - another game where pitching has the potential to prove a crucial component. However, Greenwood coach Troy Gantt is confident his freshman hurler Brooke Louden is up for the job.
"I think she'll handle the pressure just like she did the district championship game," he said. "I'm not sure I've seen any situation here bother her yet."
Louden threw five strikeouts and allowed Millersburg four hits in the Wildcats' 13-3 win over the Tri-Valley League opponent to notch their fifth-straight District 3 title. This also means it's the fifth-straight time Greenwood has made an appearance at the state tournament, and Gantt is hoping this experience will benefit his team when it takes on Hope for Hyndman.
"I hope that the girls come out relaxed based on that experience. They've been through the process before, they know what to expect, and it's just a matter of coming out and putting a good product on the field," he said.
Last year, Greenwood lost to Southern Columbia, 5-2, in the state semifinals. This year, the Wildcats' sub-.500 record at 8-11 doesn't look good, but so far the Wildcats have shown that records don't mean much in their run to the state tournament.
In the district tournament, Greenwood had to upset both Upper Dauphin and Millersburg, both of which were 2-0 against Greenwood in the regular season, but it's Greenwood that has advanced to the state tournament.
"We know we're obviously going to get a good team, a district champion, and traditionally District 5 is good for softball, so we expect to get a good team," Gantt said.
"We're going to have to continue to be aggressive and opportunistic. I think those are the two things that have gotten us to this point late in the season," he said.
On the baseball diamond, the storied Mount Union baseball team will be making yet another run at the Class AA state tournament under the leadership of veteran coach Nick Imperioli. Mount Union will face District 5 champion Bedford at 4 p.m. in Everett.
With three state titles under his belt and 17 District 6 titles, it's fair to say Imperioli knows a thing or two about playoff baseball, but his current team is familiar with the scenario, too.
Composed mostly of sophomores, the young team has not been at varsity baseball long, but Mount Union has made a trip to the district playoffs the past five years and in 2012, the Trojans won the district title and fell out of states with a first-round loss to South Fayette.
Mount Union had the lead heading into the final inning, but when a play Imperioli described as a "taylor-made double play" was botched, South Fayette took advantage for the eventual 5-4 win. And unfortunately for the Trojans, late-game comebacks by the opponent has been a trend that has continued into this year.
In this year's district championship game, Mount Union had the lead but an untimely balk in the bottom of the sixth helped Blairvsille to the 3-2 win.
"We can't beat ourselves up over it," Imperioli said, explaining that although the district championship loss was just one of a few the Trojans have given up late in the game this season, they have also stuck out a some close ones for the win.
"I told the guys on the bus that we've just got to take it out of our minds," Imperioli said.
What Imperioli would like the team to focus on instead is playing error-free, consistent defense, because at this level of competition, teams will take advantage of any errors. And in the end, Imperioli thinks defensive consistency could be the key to the game, as offense has not been the Trojans' strongest point this season.
"I'd like to see us doing what we've been successful at," he said. "You just don't make a mistake at an inopportune time."
When the Trojans take the field today, they will be tested from the start, as Imperioli says Bedford is a good all around team and very aggressive at the plate.
"This is going to be a tough test for us," he said. "They're a good all around team, and they don't really have any weaknesses that I can see."