Playoff-seasoned class looks to lead next year

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Mifflin County softball team wanted two more wins – enough to take the Huskies past last year’s first-round loss in the PIAA tournament. In fact, it would have been shocking at this point in the season to hear them say they wanted anything but wins through the rest of the season. That’s not what they got.

Wednesday, Mifflin County suffered a 4-1 loss to Central Mountain in the District 6 Class AAAA championship, effectively ending the Huskies’ season and snuffing out any chance of a run in the state tournament.

With two more wins, the Huskies’ six seniors would have made it further in scholastic softball than they ever had before. Instead, Mifflin County waves goodbye to another graduating class and looks ahead to the next 20 games. And the good news is that, looking at this year’s junior class, those next 20 games are full of potential.

Mifflin County had four juniors in the starting lineup Wednesday, and they were responsible for four of the Huskies’ six hits against Central Mountain’s hard-throwing right-hander, Rachael Shady.

These juniors also know what it’s like to be in the playoffs. Freshmen during Mifflin County’s inaugural year, this class of juniors has seen Mifflin County go at least to the District 6 Class AAAA championship game in each of the school’s three years of existence, and coach Jack McCurdy listed that as one of the class’s strengths.

“This class has considerable experience with the postseason,” he said.

That experience was important in Wednesday’s game.

Trailing 4-0 since the bottom of the first inning, Mifflin County had one more chance in the top of the seventh to extend its season, and the Huskies certainly didn’t end that inning without a try.

Senior Tara Kibe led off the inning with a single and was moved to second on a groundout by fellow senior Shelby Lyter, and this set the stage for Maggie Wray and Allessa Morrison – both juniors – to bring home the Huskies’ lone run of the game when Wray advanced Kibe to third with a seeing-eye single to center, then Morrison laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to make the final score 4-1.

“We don’t give up,” junior shortstop Wray said. “We always cheer. We keep our heads up.”

Classmate to Wray and this year’s center fielder, Mara Rhodes was in scoring position twice on Wednesday, but never crossed home plate. Looking ahead to next year, Rhodes said she would love to beat the Wildcats, who took both contests against the Huskies this year.

To do that – and to have overall success in the upcoming season – Rhodes said there are several positions the team will need to fill due to graduation, naming pitcher Lyter, among other field positions. Rhodes also said it will be important to replace some big spots in the lineup.

McCurdy said a lot of young talent is moving up through the program, and that next year he hopes the team can improve its mental toughness.

“You’ve got to be able to slow the game down in your mind,” he explained.

Yet, the Mifflin County coach was also proud of what he saw from his girls on Wednesday, explaining that outside of the first inning, he thought the game was played very evenly.

In the end, the Huskies didn’t get the two more wins they wanted. They ended, as McCurdy lamented, the same way every team does but one – with a loss.

But now there are 20 games ahead. It will be interesting to see what next year’s team does in those 20 games.