ST. MARYS — There’s no disputing the legacy the current seniors on the DCC softball team have built, so it was only fitting the group played its final game at the district level where it notched its first signature victory — the softball field at St. Marys Area High School.
The senior quartet of Riley Assalone, Jordy Frank, Macey Hanes and Libby Maurer have helped lift the DCC program to new heights. And, no matter what results next week’s PIAA playoffs bring, nothing can tarnish the impact and lasting legacy they will leave behind once they walk off the diamond for the final time.
Prior to the foursome reaching the varsity level, Central Catholic hadn’t won a District 9 softball title for 33 years. However, the school now has three in a four-year span following Thursday’s 9-0 win over Coudersport.
The quartet has amassed a career record of 79-9 (45-2 over last two years) entering Monday’s PIAA first-round game against Carmichaels, the third-place team from District 7.
“Those are four kids who are not only good at softball, but they are a joy to coach because they’re all about the team and all about us winning as a group,” said DCC coach George Heigel. “There’s no individual concerns at all. When someone is struggling with the bat, it’s not a problem if we win the game.
“With girls with that talent level, sometimes the mind can get in the way and individual statistics and overall performance can get in the way of what the team is trying to accomplish. But, that doesn’t happen with these four kids. They set the tone for the rest of our program, and the rest of our underclassmen.
“They are going to be missed, but I tell you what, they are going to be remembered. Our younger girls watch them play and watch them work hard in practice. That’s going to carry over into the next few years.”
The quartet’s historic run was jump-started by a 4-0 win over Smethport in the 2014 D-9 Class A championship game at St. Marys. All four started as freshmen in that game on a team that went 18-3 and featured six seniors led by Kylee Schaffer and Kayla Bittner.
Current senior Gabby Caruso, who just returned to the program this year despite being injured and unable to play, also saw action in that 2014 title game.
Assalone has started in the circle and gotten the victory in all three district title games, posting shutouts in both games played in St. Marys. She tossed a three-hit shutout as a freshman in the 4-0 win over Smethport, and allowed just four hits Thursday while striking out 12 Lady Falcons and walking none.
The fact the group book-ended their careers with district titles at St. Marys wasn’t lost on Assalone.
“It was funny on the bus up here,” she said. ‘We were trying to explain to Macey the field we were playing on. And then we pulled in, and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is where we won districts freshman year.’
“It’s just cool that we started our high school career winning (districts) on this field and ending our district career on the same field.
“I think we realized freshman year how good we could be. Everyone told us that we could be good, and that we were good, but to win and get to states that year really helped us realize that we were as good as people had been telling us.”
She said it’s also special to have been in the circle for all three D-9 titles.
“It’s nice having the team behind me, but it’s also nice to see all my hard work, coming to practice early, staying late, finally paying off,” she said. “I knew a district championship was on the horizon for us, but I never thought we would make it as far in states as we did last year.
“Obviously we wanted too, and it was in the back of our head, but being one of the smallest schools in the district, I don’t think we thought state semifinals was possible. The goal now is to go as far as we can this year.”
Hanes echoed Assalone’s thoughts on winning again at St. Marys, and also pointed to the importance the 2014 seniors had on them as freshmen.
“It’s really crazy to be playing on the same field we played on freshmen year,” said Hanes. “They only thing I think that was different was our confidence level. Freshmen year, we were kind of nervous, but this year we’re a strong group of seniors.
“They (2014 seniors) definitely taught us a lot about being leaders and leading the team to victory. So, we’re just following in their footsteps, and it’s a good feeling (to win again).
“I didn’t know what to expect going into high school ball because it’s a lot different than middle school, obviously. I guess after that first district win as freshmen, it changed our perspective a lot.
“Playing travel, Little League and middle school and now high school ball with them (other current seniors), and getting to this point where we win a championship, it’s just a really good feeling.”
Maurer also was quick to point out the importance the 2014 seniors had on her class, and how special it’s been to play alongside her fellow seniors over the years.
“They were definitely amazing role models to us,” said Maurer of that 2014 group. “They were key players for us and such great people to look up to. To follow them and reach our potential has just been great.
“We’ve worked so hard from freshmen year up to this point. Coach Heigel has had us in the weight room and on the field endlessly. And, to have our hard work pay off is the best feeling.
“It’s been so amazing to play this game and have so much fun with my best friends on the field. It’s been an awesome ride and Coach Heigel has been amazing to us. He treats us like we’re his daughters.
“I never expected to have so much success. My friends are so talented, and to be able to help the program like we have has been a really sweet feeling.”
In between the district titles won in St. Marys, the core group of Assalone, Frank, Hanes and Maurer helped lead DCC to a 16-4 record in 2015 — a season that ended in the D-9 semifinals with a loss to eventual state champ Elk County Catholic.
The Lady Cardinals bounced back with a fairy tale season that saw them go 24-1 and reach the state semifinals a year ago — with that lone loss coming in the state semis to West Greene (5-2).
Central Catholic currently sports a 21-1 record and could earn a rematch with West Greene in the state semifinals if both teams reach that round.
“I’m very proud of how far we’ve come (since freshmen year),” said Frank. “It’s been so much fun being able to play with our group (of seniors) over the years.
“I think after our freshmen year, we were ready to win three more. But, sophomore year that didn’t happen, and Elk was pretty good and ended up winning states.
“Now it’s our turn to wins states. That’s our goal, to keep winning.”