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Palmerton has built something special

BLOOMSBURG - The Palmerton softball program has already built something special.

And the Blue Bombers might just be getting started.

A year after winning the District 11 Class 3A softball title, Palmerton made an even deeper postseason run as district runners-up this spring.

This year’s squad became the first in school history to win two state playoff games before falling in Monday’s PIAA Class 3A semifinals to Lewisburg, 12-1, at Central Columbia High School.

Palmerton’s starting lineup against the Dragons featured five sophomores, one freshman, one junior and two seniors.

It’s a group that features plenty of youthful experience.

“You start a season knowing there is some youth with the seniors we graduated last year and you wonder who is going to fill those shoes?,” said Bombers head coach Bob Hock. “But the kids stepped up, they did the job and the seniors took on the leadership role. We were very satisfied with our accomplishment, without a doubt. It’s the last week of the season, and we’re still playing.”

Palmerton lost Emily Baumgardt, Megan Serfass, Megan Green and Yesmine Olewine from last year’s team - a group that combined for 175 hits last season on a team that fell in the first round of states. Green was the Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Softball Player of the Year.

While those were key pieces to last season’s Bomber success, this year’s lineup found ways to come up with big hits when it mattered most.

“When you lose that, you miss it,” said Hock, in his ninth season leading the program. “But our formula seemed to be, we didn’t get those types of numbers, but we distributed it around well and kids came up big in big spots all season long. And that’s great. That’s what a team does.”

Sophomore leadoff hitter Sydney Frantz collected two hits on Monday, including a triple. Another sophomore, Megan Matsko, had a pair of singles and a run scored, while sophomore Madison Green delivered an RBI double.

Matsko entered the contest as the team’s leading hitter, batting .387, followed by sophomore Carly Gaffney (.368), freshman Mikayla Pengelly (.368), sophomore Cadee Munjone (.333), junior Kelsey Balliet (.329) and Frantz (.317), giving the Bombers six players batting over .300.

Gaffney has been a staple in the circle, entering the game with a 2.32 ERA in 163 innings pitched with 173 strikeouts after also being the primary starter a year ago.

“The experience for the kids who were here obviously goes a long way,” said Hock, who has now led the team to states three times. “And we are very young. There are a lot of 10th-graders out there, and a ninth-grader. They really embraced the excitement of postseason play. You could just see it, The more crowds built and cameras showed up, they were OK with it. They were loose and having fun here.

“Things didn’t go our way today, and that’s always tough. But that experience for that whole big group of underclassmen will help when we get some younger kids moving in. They’ll already have this under their belt, and can teach the younger group. We certainly would love to be back here next year.”

While all the success from the last two seasons creates a great foundation for the underclassmen to build upon, it also provided a great testament to what the upperclassmen have helped establish.

Senior starters Alyssa Silliman and Kaylee Strohl, along with classmates Madalynn Moyer and Shannon Dougherty, have been vital in helping the Blue Bombers maintain such a high level of play throughout their careers.

“It’s been amazing,” said Silliman, who also had a hit against Lewisburg. “Especially being my senior year, I was so excited to get into states, and just playing those last few games ... it’s just been so amazing to see the team come together and how pumped up everyone was.

“Being district champs last year, we really set a high standard for this year and we were ready to win, and we really wanted it. Even though we were runner-up, we still played our best and getting into states and battling as hard as we did was really awesome.”

After an 8-0 loss to Palisades in the district final, Palmerton posted a 13-2 win over Philadelphia Academy Charter in the first round of states before topping Susquenita 6-5 in the quarterfinals.

“Working hard and coming together as a group really pushed us further,” said Strohl. “Just being together as one to make it this far.

“To be here, ending my softball career in states, it was amazing to be a part of this. It really made all of us emotional to become the first team in school history to make it this far.”

The Blue Bombers have built a strong foundation for a successful program - one that could be not only playing in the final week of the season next spring, but also on the final day.

“They’re a great group and they just have to keep working hard like they do,” said Strohl. “They just work together so well, and I have no doubt that they’re going to make it further or as far as we did this year. They’re a tough team.”

Palmerton's Madison Green, right, catches a fly ball off as teammate Sydney Frantz bumps into her.