HS SPORTS: Wow, what a finish!

Jun. 20—What a great day it was Friday in State College.

With minutes of each other and roughly a mile apart, the Tri-Valley softball team and Schuylkill Haven baseball team captured PIAA state championships, giving a pair of successful programs and their long-time head coaches their first state titles.

Celebrations were held throughout the Valley and in Schuylkill Haven on Friday night, as I was fortunate to get both of my baseball stories filed and drive back home to Schuylkill Haven just in time to catch a victory parade that featured the players and coaches in the back of TB Landscaping trucks and contained a bevy of fire trucks. Seeing the players and coaches tip their caps to all of the fans and followers that greeted them in the high school parking lot sent chills down my spine.

As softball beat writer Bob Lipsky and I traveled home from Penn State, we discussed how fortunate we were to be able to cover the high school teams and programs that we do on a regular basis and how great it felt to see lifers like Scott Buffington and Marty Shade finally get rewarded for their dedication and commitment to their programs by winning the state’s ultimate prize.

We also discussed how great of a school year the teams and individuals from the Republican Herald coverage area (the Schuylkill League plus Upper Dauphin and Hamburg) had in 2020-21. When you take a long look at it, and consider it was all done in the middle of a pandemic and following COVID-19 protocols that included wearing facemasks while competing, it is quite amazing.

Four Schuylkill League teams — Nativity boys’ basketball, North Schuylkill girls’ track, Schuylkill Haven baseball and Tri-Valley softball — won state team titles while several other individuals brought home state hardware.

A quick recap:

— In cross country, Blue Mountain junior Olivia Haas won the PIAA Class AA state championship Nov. 7 at the Parkview Cross Country Course in Hershey. She was clocked in 18:56, joining her father Randy (who won the 1979 state title) as a state champion and became just second Schuylkill League female to grab state cross country gold. Haas’ effort helped the Eagles finish fourth in the team standings, the highest finish of any team (boys or girls) from the Schuylkill League since 1986.

— Two weeks later, the Marian girls’ volleyball team reached the PIAA Class A state final before falling to Clarion Area 25-16, 25-14, 25-16 at Cumberland Valley High School. Pine Grove also made a deep postseason run in volleyball, falling to Trinity in the Class AA state semifinals.

— The 2020 high school football season was greatly affected by COVID-19, with a limited schedule and the District 11 Class A title game between Williams Valley and Tri-Valley never being played. District 11 opted out of the PIAA playoffs, which left local teams to fight for district crowns.

North Schuylkill was one of those, putting on an offensive display in a 49-35 victory over Notre Dame-Green Pond in the Class 3A final as Josh Chowansky rushed 41 times for 267 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans capped an unbeaten, 8-0 season with their second District 11 Class 3A crown in three seasons. With most of those players returning, North Schuylkill will enter the 2021 campaign as a state title contender.

— In the winter, the Nativity boys’ basketball team added a state title to the five won by their female counterparts with a thrilling run through the PIAA Class A bracket. Led by All-State first-team selections Marquis Ratcliff and Kegan Hertz, the Hilltoppers recorded a nail-biting win over St. John Neumann and an overtime victory over La Academia Charter to reach Hershey, where they edged Berlin Brothersvalley 51-47 in overtime March 25 at the Giant Center.

— Individually in the winter, Hamburg’s Dalton Gimbor captured silver at 152 pounds at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships on March 12 at the Giant Center, reaching the finals before falling to Laurel sophomore Grant Mackay 1-0. It was part of a 25-2 season for the Hawks’ senior.

He wasn’t the only local grappler to make a deep PIAA run, as Tamaqua senior Nate Wickersham was third at 215 pounds in Class AA. His pin of Bermudian Springs’ Savauri Shelton in 4:09 gave Wickersham a 25-3 record this season.

— In the pool, Pottsville’s Zaidian Van Orden dominated the competition all season, winning District 11 gold in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle, then placing fourth in the 100 and ninth in the 50 at the PIAA Class AA Swimming Championships on March 19 at Cumberland Valley High School.

Van Orden wasn’t the only Schuylkill League swimmer to capture a state medal. The Blue Mountain quartet of Morgan Yuengling, Maria Lopez, Victoria Ellex and Hannah Magdeburg was fifth in the 200 freestyle relay and eighth in the 400 freestyle relay, while Eagles’ junior Katherine Sarnes was sixth in the 500 freestyle and the foursome of Derrick Yuengling, Miko Barbe, Matheson Bair and Sean Sopko was eighth in the boys’ 200 freestyle relay.

— Memorial Day weekend, North Schuylkill’s Sarah Wagner (long jump) and Pottsville’s Peyton Kleckner (high jump) won PIAA track golds, while the North Schuylkill girls captured the Class AA team title.

That led us to Friday, when the Dawgs and Hurricanes brought home the gold from State College.

Wow, what a finish!

Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter

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