Centre County Enjoyed Stellar High School Sports in 2016
One of the nicest things about sports in general, and high school sports in particular, is that no matter how a team fared in 2016, there is always 2017 to look forward to.
The future is full of new beginnings and new hopes.
That, of course, does not diminish what took place in 2016, and there were some remarkable achievements by teams and individual players all around the county during the last year.
With the curtain about to be lowered on 2016, now seems like a good time to look back at some of those teams and individuals who made it such an exciting year.
Let’s start with the most surprising and without question the most inspiring Centre County team in 2016: the Bellefonte baseball team.
Coaches will be talking to their teams about what the Red Raiders did for many years to come. Here is a team that went into the playoffs almost as an afterthought, with a losing regular season record of 9-11, and then somehow started believing in what they were doing.
They went into the D-6 tournament seeded last, but a win in their first-round game over Johnstown, 12-2, gave them some confidence. Then a shutout win over No. 1 Somerset, 2-0, followed by a 5-4 squeaker over Hollidaysburg gave them the District Championship — and their first plus-.500 record of the season.
Of course, the PIAA state tournament was a different animal, and WPIAL and District 7 champion Chartiers Valley was next up in the first round in Pittsburgh.
Chartiers Valley was everybody’s favorite to win the whole thing, and it was also Bellefonte’s next prize by a score of 2-1 at Fox Chapel High School.
At the time, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the Raiders’ win was the biggest tournament upset in recent memory.
Upset or not, Bellefonte kept playing. Erie Cathedral Prep was next, 1-0, and then the Raiders took care of District 11 champion Hamburg, 5-4, to advance into the state championship game at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
In the final, the Raiders squared off against high-scoring Susquehanna Township, and they did not waver an inch from the pitching-defense-hit-when-we-can style of play that got them there.
Senior Dom Masullo threw a complete-game, five-hit shutout, the defense was its usual stone wall, and Tyler Kreger singled home the winning run in the third inning as Bellefonte took home the state title with a 2-0 win.
It was the first-ever boys’ state championship for the school in any sport.
“I always knew there was a formula for success — pitching and defense,” Bellefonte head coach Dan Fravel said afterward. “You cannot waver on those two things, and the boys bought in.”
Quite a story, but it wasn’t the only one. Here are some other county teams, in no particular order, that had big years: State College boys' track and field (state champs), St. Joseph’s Academy girls’ cross-country (Single-A State Champs), State College football, State College girls’ volleyball, Penns Valley boys’ and girls’ basketball, State College boys’ and girls’ basketball, Penns Valley cross-country, State College cross-country, BEA and Bellefonte wrestling, BEA girls’ volleyball, State College girls’ soccer and P-O and BEA softball (as usual).
As far as individuals are concerned, the aforementioned Masullo needs to be given special mention.
In his senior year, Masullo was 8-3 with an ERA of 2.15 in 68 innings pitched. He gave up 40 hits, 21 earned runs, walked 47 and struck out 83.
Not incredibly overwhelming stats to be sure, but he certainly heated up when the playoffs came around. He was the winning pitcher in the Johnstown, Hollidaysburg, Chartiers Valley, Hamburg and Susquehanna Valley games. He was also credited with a save against Somerset.
By the time he took the ball against Susquehanna Valley, he was almost unhittable.
And then there was State College senior basketball forward Kyla Irwin. In her career as a four-year starter for the Little Lions, Irwin amassed more than 2,100 career points and became the second highest scorer in SC history.
In 2015-16, she averaged more than 26 points and 12 rebounds per game and led her team to the D-6 championship and into the PIAA playoffs.
Irwin is now playing for the University of Connecticut Huskies and is averaging more than seven minutes per game as a freshman for the defending NCAA champions.
The year was also filled with remarkable individual and team performances. Here are just a few:
■ Philipsburg-Osceola softball players Haylee Hayward and Chelsey Henry slammed dramatic back-to-back home runs to tie Steel Valley in the seventh inning in the first round of the 2016 PIAA tournament. P-O went on to win, 6-5.
■ All Mid-Penn and all-state linebacker Pete Haffner carried the ball 35 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns in SC’s crucial victory over Harrisburg.
■ SC quarterback Tyler Snyder’s last-ditch, fourth-down, 26-yard completion to Noah Woods (also named All-State) kept the Lions’ final drive alive in the win over Cumberland Valley. The Little Lions went on to share the Mid-Penn championship and win a district title.
■ St. Joseph Academy’s Sera Mazza won the state single-A cross-country individual title while leading her team to the overall state championship.
■ Bellefonte junior pitcher Tara Baney won 15 games and struck out 170 hitters (including 17 in a no-hitter against Tyrone) while at the same time batting .438 with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs for the Lady Raiders.
■ Philipsburg-Osceola broke its three-year football losing streak with a 34-14 victory over St. Joseph’s on Oct. 29.
■ Penns Valley’s boys’ basketball team finished its 20th consecutive winning season by going 20-4 in 2015-16. The Rams advanced into the second round of the state tournament before finally losing.
■ The State College girls’ volleyball team carried an undefeated record into its state semi-final matchup against Garnet Valley. The Little Lions lost in five sets to a GV team that eventually won the championship.
■ The P-O boys’ golf team went 21-0.
■ Bald Eagle Area’s girls’ volleyball team went 14-0 and won the league championship.
■ Mountain League champions, according to the Mountain League website, included Penns Valley boys’ cross-country, P-O boys’ and girls’ golf teams, Bellefonte boys’ soccer, BEA girls’ volleyball, Penns Valley girls’ basketball, Bald Eagle Area softball and P-O softball (tie).
It won’t take long for everybody to start up again in 2017, all hoping, of course, for some magic in the new year.
There’s a full schedule of games as early as Tuesday, Jan. 3, so see you there.