BELLEFONTE - Bellefonte's Gregg Kohlhepp knows the dangers of the playoffs. The Lady Raider head coach has seen his fair share of success and failure.
So when Hollidaysburg came to O'Leary Field for the quarterfinal of the District VI Class AAA championship, he knew his team had to be ready.
"They are a good team," Kohlhepp said. "Don't let their record fool you. They have some great athletes and are dangerous at the plate."
Indeed, on paper this was a classic David versus Goliath matchup.
Bellefonte came in, looking to defend their district title and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Hollidaysburg is a young, tough-luck team, dropping seven of the their 14 prior losses by two runs or less.
There would be no upsets on a sun-soaked O'Leary Field, as the Lady Raiders used two strong innings from the plate and outstanding defensive performances to down Hollidaysburg 9-1 and advance to the finals.
"We went back to playing Bellefonte softball," Kohlhepp said. "We had a member of the first Bellefonte softball team - Patti Hillard - come and speak to the girls last night. She was a pitcher on the very first team. It is important we honor the past. We have 42 years of tradition and the girls are proud to be a part of it.?
"This group understands they are apart of that history. They work hard during the off season and never quit in season. They are proud to be here."
Jess Gmerek is the prime example of this pride, as her impressive year continued. After going 2-for-3 yesterday, the senior Red Raider has hit safely in 20 of 21 games.
"It feels great knowing I can contribute to this team," she said. "We put it all together as a team. Someone is always there to pick you up. I had some butterflies today."
There was little evidence of the butterflies in her opening at bat as she smacked a run-scoring single to spark Bellefonte's four-run first inning.
"We were nervous in the beginning," Hollidaysburg coach Mike Harris said. "We talked about not spotting Bellefonte runs. We did just that in the first and it ended up hurting us."
Another great example of the Lady Raider pride came in the fifth inning, when Carly?Chambers battled with Hollidaysburg pitcher Alyssa Pheasant for 13 pitches, before getting a single on the 14th.
"That is what playoff softball is about,"?Kohlhepp said. "She stayed focused and fought through a tough at bat. It was really nice to see her pick up that single."
It was small things like Gmerek's heart and Chambers' persistence that spearheaded a well-balanced Bellefonte attack.
With a quick 4-0 lead, Bellefonte's ace Hannah Cooper went to work from the circle, surrendering only one run, on three hits and striking out four batters.
"I was effective today," she said. "I threw what my coaches told me and the defense was making great plays. We are still improving as a team and that is great to see."
The defense behind Cooper played an exceptional game.
Erica DeVinney was a steel trap at shortstop, while Jillian Musser flashed her speed in center field tracking any flyball in the outfield.
The Golden Tigers didn't go down without a fight.
Down 4-0 in the fourth, Hollidaysburg fought back into the game.
After Hannah Mercer reaching on a fielder's choice and an Alyssa Pheasant single, Brooke Ickes stepped up and delivered a two-out run-scoring single.
"It was important to get that run," Harris said. "This team has a great attitude and are a great group of girls. We wanted to rally back into this game. Give Bellefonte credit, they made some great plays. That is what great teams do."
The Lady Raiders answered right back in the bottom of the fourth putting another four spot on the scoreboard.
With two outs, Kellie Giles started Bellefonte with a double. After a Cooper walk, Musser smoked a double, plating Giles.
Gmerek continued the two-out scoring fest with a base-clearing two-run double.
The inning ended with a bang, as Vanessa Cooper demolished a ball deep into center field, scoring Gmerek.
"We kept talking about keeping good at bats," Kohlhepp said. "She (Pheasant) shut us down for a bit and we just kept working on it. It was nice to score runs with two outs. As long as we are at the plate, we are still dangerous."
With the comfortable 8-1 lead, Hannah Cooper, went back out and silenced the Golden Tigers' batting order for the rest of the game.
"We are young," Harris said. "Bellefonte is such a quality team. You aren't going to win many games picking up three hits. I am proud of this team, they never quit."
Bellefonte will play Huntingdon - who downed Somerset, 13-4 - on Wednesday in the District VI Class AAA championships held at Penn State.
"It is about focus," Kohlhepp said. "It is a belief they can work together and do it. The pressure is on. This is the playoffs. The league schedule we play provided us with some quality games and has given us the pressure situations through the season. It is about focus from this point on."
Class AAA semifinals
H 000 100 0 - 1 3 1
B 400 410 X - 9 10 3
H: Alyssa Pheasant and Taylor Herr. B: Hannah Cooper and Vanessa Cooper. WP -H. Cooper. LP -Pheasant. 2B: B, Jillian Musser, Jess Gmerek, Erica DeVinney, Kellie Giles. MH: B, H. Cooper, Gmerek, V. Cooper. Records: H: 3-15, B: 17-4.