Nicholas Tolomeo of the Tri-State Sports & News Service writes about the Riverside softball team. Read his story below.
(Photo: Riverside starting pitcher Kirsten Wilson is comforted by coach Pam McCarty after the team lost to Brandywine Heights, 1-0, in the PIAA Class AA softball championship game last Friday in University Park, Pa. Lake Fong/Post-Gazette).
Riverside softball coach Pam McCarty and her assistant coach and husband, Paul McCarty, sat their team down during a practice in February.
When they looked at the team they saw a striking resemblance to a 2001 squad. That 2001 team won a WPIAL championship and reached the PIAA championship.
"These girls reminded us of the 2001 team," Pam McCarty said. "It was a small group, but we saw ability, we knew we had the pitching and we had to work on the defense and work on the hitting. If we did that, we could be as good as the 2001 team."
The 2013 Panthers ended up mirroring the accomplishments of the 2001 Panthers, winning the WPIAL championship and reaching the PIAA championship game.
They put on one of the best single-season performances by a defensive unit, regardless of sport, in WPIAL history, but after shutting out 19 of their first 22 opponents, the Panthers were on the wrong end of a 1-0 shutout in the PIAA Class AA championship game against District 3 champion Brandywine Heights on Friday.
"At the end of the year, I looked at these girls and I said to these girls, 'you were better than the 2001 team,' " Pam McCarty said. "This team had camaraderie, they had heart and they had athleticism. I have never had a team that just jelled like this team, not only in a sports sense but mentally, too."
The championship game appearance at Penn State University marked the end of a remarkable season for Riverside. The Panthers finished the regular season 15-0 but in a loaded WPIAL Class AA field they only received a No. 3 seed.
On their way to a WPIAL championship, they knocked off two defending champions.
In the WPIAL playoffs they knocked off two-time defending WPIAL Class A champion Chartiers-Houston, 4-0, in the semifinals and then defeated reigning WPIAL Class AA champion Deer Lakes, 5-1, in the WPIAL finals.
Riverside shut out District 9 champion Curwensville, District 6 runner-up Ligonier Valley and District 6 champion Phillipsburg-Osceola on its way to the PIAA championship game.
In the PIAA championship game, Riverside senior pitcher Kirsten Wilson had a performance befitting her career, even if the ending did not.
Pam and Paul McCarty watched the rebroadcast of the PIAA championship game on Saturday.
"These past couple days have been tough," Pam McCarty said. "We watched the game and just saw some of the bounces and bloops and you reflect on some of that stuff, there wasn't any luck on our side."
While there was plenty to second guess after coming so close, there is also a lot to appreciate like the play and leadership of the Riverside seniors, Wilson and catcher Nicole Mansfield.
"Those two really should be proud of what they accomplished," McCarty said. "They led this team and they took these younger kids under their wing. When you have two leaders like that, my other 11 girls really took something away from them. Those two girls were great leaders and great girls, I love them like they are my own."
Pam McCarty has been a head coach at Riverside for 17 years and a coach with the program for a total of 26 years.
"Kirsten is probably one of the best players I have ever seen," Pam McCarty said. "And Nicole was just a great catcher. She had a great season this year, you didn't find too many people stealing on her and if you did, she would throw you out."
Mansfield was just one member of a defense that only allowed three teams to score all season. It allowed eight total runs in 23 games and only committed 12 errors. Wilson capped her career with a 13-strikeout, six-inning performance in the PIAA final with the only run of the game being an unearned run.
"I'm sad it's over because we've had a really good run at this," Pam McCarty said. "I'm also really, really proud of my team."