MIFFLINBURG — It’s been 12 long years since the last time Mifflinburg’s softball team last played in a PIAA quarterfinal.
But, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“The girls know it’s been a while since the team has made it this far, but we’ve been to states before (in 2017). They know it’s a big accomplishment to make it past the first round,” said Mifflinburg coach Ron Hernandez. “They are excited where they are at, and they are proud of their accomplishment.
“The girls are ready to get it going,” added Hernandez.
Mifflinburg’s first foray past the first round in over a decade will result in a matchup against District 3 third-place team West Perry (21-5). The game will be played today at 2 p.m. at Lebanon Valley College.
Although neither Hernandez nor his players know much about West Perry, the coach isn’t worried about going into the game blind.
“No, I’m okay not knowing a lot about them. My girls are experienced and they make adjustments well during the game,” said Mifflinburg’s coach. “It would be better to have some information on them, but with this group of girls we can make adjustments as needed and go from there.”
However, one of the main concerns for Hernandez is West Perry’s experience, especially after the Mustangs reached the state quarterfinals a year ago. West Perry is also the Perry County champions and the Mid-Penn Capital Division co-champs.
“They made it to the quarterfinals last year and lost to the eventual state champions (Punxsutawney), so their experience will be a factor in the game. They’ve been this far before, so we’ll have to stay grounded,” said Hernandez. “The girls who have the experience (from 2017) will play a big factor in (us staying grounded). Nerves are only there before the game starts, but when the game starts they all go into game mode.
“Our seniors will be a calming influence and be leaders, and the girls who haven’t been there will follow.”
Of course, a good start will go a long way in helping the Wildcats succeed today.
“We’ll need to get on them early and put some pressure on them right off the bat, and if we do that and the girls do what they normally do they will prevail,” said Hernandez.
Another big key for Mifflinburg is pitcher Vanessa Martin.
“Getting ahead in the count so she can use some of her other pitches will be key for Martin — and keeping their big hitters under control,” said Mifflinburg’s coach. “I think once she gets through the lineup one time she’ll be okay. The big thing for her is to have a good start right off the bat and keeping the ball on the ground and have her defense help her out — like they normally do.”
While both teams are capable of scoring a lot of runs at any given time (as evidenced by West Perry’s 20-0 win over Lansdale Catholic in Monday’s first-round game), Hernandez believes today’s contest will be a closely-contested affair.
“Well, based on their record and from what I’ve heard, I think it’ll be a good, close game. We’ll have to play all three aspects of the game and keep it close,” said the coach. “It’s a playoff game so records don’t mean a whole lot. West Perry is a good team obviously. They have a good record, and I don’t foresee a blowout but a strong game by both teams.”
And speaking of first-round victories, Mifflinburg’s 5-2 triumph over Scranton Prep will go a long way in the Wildcats’ matchup today.
“That was a big win (on Monday). That gives the girls confidence going into the game. I think the nerves will be a little less, and I think we’ll have that quick start again and put some pressure on West Perry,” said Hernandez.
“I think our key (today) will be the middle of the lineup coming through with some clutch hits. In the last few games we needed some clutch hits and we left some runners on base. We need to take advantage of our scoring opportunities when we get them.
“If the girls play like they normally do on defense, they will be fine,” added Mifflinburg’s coach. “We are strong defensively and the girls all know the game real well — and they know what to do.”