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Softball is Shining

As the high school softball game wouldn’t be starting for another hour, very few fans had gathered at the field. As the teams were beginning their pre-game routine, a woman greeted me with a warm smile while stating, “Isn’t this wonderful!”

Thinking she was referring to the beautiful day that had unfolded, I returned the greeting stating something about how good the weatherman had been to us the past few days.

“I’m not talking about the weather. I’m talking about how great it is to see these girls playing softball. I’m amazed at how well they play and how athletic they are.” “I’m old,” she admitted, “but when I was in high school, they didn’t have all these sports for girls. They had cheerleading and intramural sports but nothing like this.”

That brief conversation has lingered in my mind, especially as it relates to the brand of high school softball being played in our area.

Good softball play is not a recent phenomenon in our locale. Lycoming County and the surrounding area have been blessed with a plethora of outstanding teams throughout the years, with Loyalsock, South Williamsport, Williamsport, and last year Montgomery bringing home state championship hardware for their trophy cases.

Due to print deadlines, this is being penned before last weekend’s annual Williamsport-hosted Elm Park Tournament. The annual event for the softballers is the equivalent to Bowman Field’s Backyard Brawl, only bigger. The eight-team tournament field includes Loyalsock, Montoursville, South Williamsport, the host Millionaires, and four other quality teams including last year’s champion Bellefonte. The local squads were not scheduled against each other in Friday’s opening round, but Saturday’s local grudge matches heated up the competition.

Judging the local teams by their won/lost records is not a true indication of how they stack up, as the schools are of different PIAA classifications and play different regular season schedules. Hughesville, Jersey Shore, Loyalsock, Montoursville, and Williamsport are all members of the Heartland Conference. Montgomery, Muncy, and St. John Neumann are members of the Mid-Penn conference, while South Williamsport plays an independent schedule.

During the 2022 season, the nine-county schools compiled a combined 62% winning record, highlighted by Montgomery’s PIAA Class A state title. South Williamsport was crowned the District IV AA champ via a hard-fought 3-2 win over Muncy, and Jersey Shore reached the AAAA championship game.

As this year’s season enters the May stretch run, all have continued their winning traditions, with Hughesville and St. John Neumann showing marked improvement over last year.

While some outstanding seniors are completing their high school careers, the future of high school softball looks to be in good hands. The rosters of Lycoming County schools show 32 seniors and 50 freshmen playing the game. Williamsport has the most seniors (7) but also has seven freshmen. Hughesville, Montoursville, and Muncy have four seniors, while Loyalsock, Montgomery, St. John Neumann, and South Williamsport all have three. Grace Lorson is the only senior suiting up for Jersey Shore’s Bulldogs.

While Jersey Shore seems poised for continued success, the underclassmen theme has been a key ingredient to the successes at Hughesville, Neumann, and Montoursville. Loyalsock features six new starters from last season, Montgomery eight, and South Williamsport’s starting lineup includes six sophomores and two freshmen joining four-sport senior Aleigha Rieppel.

With the District IV playoffs looming a month away, high school softball will be reaching a fever pitch as teams seek to qualify for state tournament glory. Per the PIAA bracketing determination, local schools will be competing for District IV titles at the A, AA, AAA, & AAAA levels. In 5A & 6A, District IV is combined with District II for tournament play.

Schools are assigned to the various levels based upon the number of female students in grades 9-10-11. The cutoff for each level includes Class A – 107, AA – 150, AAA – 220, AAAA – 321, AAAAA – 487 & AAAAAA – 488 and above.

In Pennsylvania, there are 104 teams at the A level, (107) 2A, (105) 3A, (108) 4A, (106) 5A, & (104) 6A. At the District IV level, there are nine teams in A, 12 in AA, 13 in AAA, and seven in AAAA. Based upon the accumulative numbers, the number of teams at the District level qualifying for the state tournament varies.

District IV will send one Class A team into state tournament play, (2) AA, (2) AAA, and (1) AAAA. At the 5 & 6A combined District 2 & 4 levels, one team will advance in each.

As the weather warms, take the opportunity to get out and see your favorite high school team in action. And as Terrel Owens once said, “Get your popcorn ready!”