Central Bucks South will be playing for a PIAA Class AAAA softball title on Friday when the Titans take on Bishop Shanahan at Penn State University.
They are not big into celebrating, and there is no posturing or trash talking after a big play or a big win.
They are, in fact, a rare and unique assortment of players who don’t take themselves too seriously. Not even when the stakes are high.
Witness only the scene after Central Bucks South’s 7-0 win over Pennsbury in Monday’s PIAA Class AAAA semifinal game that featured a no-hit masterpiece by pitcher Haileigh Stocks. If it seems as though Stocks would have been on the receiving end of flowery compliments from her teammates, guess again.
“She’s all right, I guess,” catcher Lauren Klepchick said when asked about the performance of her batterymate.
“It’s about time,” teammate Jae Epstein added.
“Thanks, guys,” said an unfazed Stocks.
Stocks and her teammates have the look of a team on a mission. They don’t need or want pats on the back. They still have work to do. After Monday’s semifinal win, coach Dan Hayes greeted his team in the dugout with, ‘Proud of you. Nice going. Long bus ride on Friday.’
That was the beginning and end of the team’s postgame meeting.
“It’s just the way we are,” Stocks said. “We’ll get pumped on the bus and in the dugout, but we’re not the type of team that runs out there and dog piles.”
The Titans are letting their actions do the talking, and they’ve been sending a very definitive message since their 4-3 district semifinal loss to North Penn. In their four wins since that loss, the Titans have outscored their opponents 27-3.
“They have really stepped up the last couple of weeks,” Hayes said. “After that North Penn loss, that really, really ticked them off. Since then, they have been playing good ball.
“We have cut down on the errors which is so big. The walks will happen, but with a cutdown in the errors, it makes such a big difference. Not that you have to make the plays Morgan (Decker) made at third base the other day, but just making all the routine plays - it gives you a positive attitude, a positive outlook. We’re playing well.”
True to form, the Titans have made their impressive late-season run with very little fanfare. Witness only Stocks sprinting around the bases after smacking a two-run home run in the second inning of Monday’s semifinal win over Pennsbury.
“I’m not the type of person to jog and make a big deal – just hit the ball, go in, next batter, get some more hits,” Stocks said.
It’s been an approach that has not only been effective but refreshing, and for this year’s seniors, getting to the state title game is hardly big news. They have been there before when they were sophomores, but their memories are hazy of the Titans’ 1-0 loss to Mount Lebanon in a contest that saw Geena Bedolato – now pitching at Robert Morris - toss the first ever perfect game in a state title game.
In Friday’s title game against Bishop Shanahan, the Titans will once again face a formidable opponent on the mound in senior Kate Poppe. Take away the Eagles’ 5-4 state semifinal win over Canon-McMillan on Monday, and the Villanova-bound senior had not allowed more than two runs in 17 straight games (which included eight shutouts). She has given up more than two runs just twice all season.
Friday’s contest will be an intriguing battle pitting arguably the state’s most dominant pitcher against a Titan squad that boasts a high-powered offense and a pitcher who is more than capable of dominating opponents as well.
Whatever the outcome, the Titans realize this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I was supposed to leave for senior week on the 13th,” Decker said. “I was talking to my dad about it, and you’ll remember a state championship so much longer than your senior week.
“It would be so easy to say, ‘I could be on senior week right now,’ but to have a state championship as your memory would be amazing.”
This year’s senior class leaves behind a legacy that will be difficult to match. They have been to the state semifinals in three out of four years, and this is their second trip to the state title game in the past three years.
“I said this before, but it will be a while, if ever, that you see a group this big come in and play for the varsity as freshmen or sophomores,” Hayes said. “It’s very unusual when something like that happens.”
At their team’s final practice on Thursday evening, Central Bucks South’s eight seniors reflected on what it means to compete in the state title game for the second time in their careers:
“It kind of sunk in today when I was pulling in and no one else was in school. The school was shut and no other sports were here, and it sunk in that it was just us. We’re the last ones standing, so we just have to practice. It will be real tomorrow when we get there and we’re in the stadium.
“I remember being on the team as a sophomore. I knew what was going on, but now being a senior, I can understand what all the seniors before me were going through and how they felt about it. It’s a lot different.”
“It’s really exciting that we made it here once again. I feel more confident this year than I did two years ago. I guess that just comes with time – you’re more confident over time. I definitely feel we have a good chance of winning it. We have a lot of confidence. We have a lot of seniors that want it.
“When I was a sophomore, I still felt like I had two more chances at it. This year it feels so different because this is my last chance. I’m a senior, so I guess I want it a lot more than I did back then.”
“We have been playing together here for so long that it’s surreal to think that we’re not going to come back here. This is the last time I’ll play on this field, and it hit me today. The difference between now and the first time we went to the state championship game is we’ve all come so far. As people and as players, we’ve all changed and developed. It’s the same atmosphere, but it’s extremely different at the same time.
“It’s weird to know that no matter the outcome of this game, it’s definitely done, which makes today’s practice the weirdest.”
“It’s great. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be with and to enjoy this with. Especially for our senior year, it’s great closure, so we’re all excited. Even after graduation, it was like, ‘See you at breakfast.’ We have a lot of fun together, and we never really get nervous because we’re all cracking jokes - which makes it easier to play and have fun.
“I feel like we’re all better friends. I always say that, but I feel there is that connection with each other this time. We know that if one person is down, we know what we have to do to pick the other person up.
“Most of us – the eight seniors - have been together four years. We were all there, so we know what it’s like to have our hopes up and then not produce what we want, so we know what we need to do to win tomorrow. I’m very excited. I can tell we all are. I feel like we owe it to ourselves to win this one. We’ve come this far. We’ve been there before. We know what to expect. We just need to be able to produce it this year.
“I feel like it hasn’t sunk in yet, but when we’re on the bus ride up and once we get there, it will be like, ‘Wow, this is really real. This is the last time we will be playing together.’ That’s when it will hit us. Warming up for the last time – everything is for the last time, and we want to make it a good one. Hopefully, we’ll come out on top and beat Shanahan.
“I feel like this whole season we have had our ups and downs – losing to our big rivals North Penn and Hatboro-Horsham, and now knowing that they’re all out and we’re coming down to our last game – it’s pretty insane, but we’re ready for it, and I hope we can do it.”
“It’s just been crazy. It’s been surreal, but it seems almost like it’s expected because we have been here in the same situation in the state playoffs twice before, so it’s a good cap to our senior year. It would be incredible to finally make it all the way, something we have never done before and something for this group of seniors – which is a special group – to finally achieve.
“It just feels like we have been practicing like it’s any other game, which is the right way to go about it because if you build it up into something much bigger than that everyone will come out with nerves, everybody is going to be super anxious. It’s best to go at it like it’s any other game in the season. I think it will be sad tomorrow either way because that’s the end.”
“It’s crazy because obviously we have been here before my sophomore year. We’re just really excited to be back. We came up just short of the state title two years ago, so we’re hoping for a different outcome this year. We knew after being there as sophomores, we wanted to go back. We knew we had a good group of girls to build up for this year. Some of us have been playing together since we were eight or nine. It will be sad after this game because it’s the final game we’re playing together. We’re hoping for a good outcome.”
(1-3) CENTRAL BUCKS SOUTH vs (1-2) BISHOP SHANAHAN on Friday, 5:30 p.m., at Penn State University
Central Bucks South
- 21-4 overall, 12-2 SOL
- Continental Conference co-champions with Hatboro-Horsham
How they got here:
- Defeated #11Wissahickon 4-0 in second round district game. The Titans were led by the four-hit, nine-strikeout effort of Haileigh Stocks and the two-hit, two-RBI performance of Hallie Bilker.
- The Titans pounded out nine hits and benefitted from three errors (resulting in three unearned runs) to earn an 8-0 win over third-seeded Spring-Ford in the quarterfinals. Lauren Klepchick led the Titans with a 3-for-4 day while Hallie Bilker drove in three runs with a bases-clearing triple. Haileigh Stocks allowed just two hits in the shutout.
- Titans never led in their 4-3 loss to North Penn in a district semifinal contest. Morgan Decker led the Titans with a pair of hits.
- Rolled to a 9-1 win over top-seeded Pennsbury in the district’s third place game. Freshman Maddie Decker’s two-run double highlighted a six-run uprising in the fourth inning. Haileigh Stocks not only earned the win on the mound, the senior hurler also was 3-for-3 with a double to lead a 15-hit Titan attack.
- Haileigh Stocks had a pair of three-run homers and also earned the win on the mound in the Titans’ 8-1 win over District 11 champion Liberty in Monday’s opening round. Lauren Klepchick added a pair of hits, including an RBI double.
- Defeated District 12 champion St. Hubert’s 3-1. Lauren Klepchick delivered the game’s big blow, a two-run homerun in the fourth inning to spot the Titans a 2-0 lead. They added a single run in the fifth, using singles by Kristyn Marinelli and Jae Epstein (RBI). Haileigh Stocks was impressive in the win, allowing four hits while fanning seven.
- Haileigh Stocks was the star on the mound and at the plate in South’s 7-0 win over Pennsbury. The senior hurler tossed the first no-hitter of her high school career, allowing only a fourth inning walk. Stocks, who had a pair of hits, also slammed a two-run home run in the second inning to put the Titans on top 5-0. Morgan Decker was 2-for-2 with a double, and Carly Dudek also had a pair of hits.
- Morgan Decker (Sr., 3B, .487 batting average, .581 on-base percentage, .868 slugging percentage, 36 runs scored, 12 doubles, 1 triple, 5 home runs, 36 RBIs, has struck out just twice in 93 plate appearances)
- Haileigh Stocks (Sr., pitcher, 20-4, 0.78 ERA, 166 strikeouts in 153 innings, .367 batting average, 6 home runs)
- Lauren Klepchick (Sr., catcher, has not allowed a successful steal this season, .375 batting average, .432 on-base percentage, 5 doubles, 3 home runs, 25 RBIs, has struck out only once in 88 plate appearances)
- Hallie Bilker (Jr., RF, .394 batting average, .423 on-base percentage, 24 doubles, 19 RBIs)
- Jae Epstein (Sr., CF, Titans’ lead-off batter boasts a .325 batting average, 8 stolen bases, 24 runs scored)
- Carly Dudek (Jr., LF, .318 batting average)
- Kristyn Marinelli (Jr., 1B, .378 batting average)
- Alli Waddington (Sr., 1B, .286 batting average)
- Alyssa Virginio (Sr., 2B, .350 batting average)
- Maddie Decker (Fr., DP, .300 batting average, four doubles)
- Michelle Gessner (Sr., SS)
- Ally Horvath (Jr., courtesy runner/outfielder)
- Kim Rowe (Sr., reserve outfielder, .409 batting average)
- Sammy Meyers (Jr., reserve catcher)
- Hope Darreff (Fr., reserve)
- 22-3 overall
- Opened season with 10 straight wins
- Won 17 of 18 before dropping a pair of games to close out the regular season
- Seven seniors on roster
How they got here:
- Defeated Perkiomen Valley 5-1 in the opening round of districts in a game that saw Kate Poppe strike out 15.
- Defeated Hatboro-Horsham 1-0 in a district quarterfinal game that was the Kate Poppe show. The Villanova-bound hurler struck out 17 and allowed just one hit.
- Poppe was once again the story in Shanahan’s 5-0 upset of top-seeded Pennsbury in the district semifinal. The senior mound ace allowed just one hit while fanning 10. The Eagles plated three unearned runs in the second.
- Fell to North Penn 2-1 in the District One AAAA title game. Poppe allowed five hits and one earned run while striking out 16, bringing the Villanova-bound senior’s strikeout total to 58 in four district games.
- Defeated Central 12-0 in Monday’s opening round state playoff game. Poppe tossed a perfect game in the abbreviated five-inning contest, striking out 13 of 15 batters she faced, including 11 in a row at one stretch.
- Kate Poppe allowed a season-high eight hits, but Shanahan had enough firepower to defeat Canon-McMillan 5-4 in Monday’s state semifinal.