UNIVERSITY PARK — The true mark of any successful sports program is its staying power at, or near the top, of its given sport.
Friday’s PIAA Class A state softball championship game between DuBois Central Catholic and Williams Valley was a prime example of two schools in different stages of building that “staying power.”
Williams Valley, from District 11, was playing in its fourth straight state title game and fourth in the past six years — and that experience showed against a DCC squad playing on the state’s biggest stage for the first time ever.
The end result was a 5-0 victory for the Lady Vikings, one that gave the program its third state title over the that six-year stretch.
The loss was a heartbreaking one for DCC, which was looking to become just the fourth different District 9 school to capture a state crown. Curwensville was the first to do so, winning Class A crowns in 2007 and 2009. Elk County Catholic captured the 2015 Class A state title, while Punxsutawney took home the Class 4A state crown a year ago.
While the Lady Cardinals left Penn State’s Beard Field feeling the heartache and disappointment of falling just short of their ultimate goal, their season was anything but disappointing.
Instead, it should be celebrated considering the fact the squad — led by its senior class of Ashley Wruble, Alyssa Bittner, Carley Semancik and Gabby Sabatose — put together the greatest season ever by a Lady Cardinal team.
Central Catholic put together a 26-1 season on the field — a record that even topped that of state champ Williams Valley (26-2). Officially, DCC’s record will go in the books as 17-10 due to a preseason paper work issue on a transfer player that was mishandled at the school administrator level.
That will always put an asterisk so to speak on the 2019 season for DCC. And while it took away nine wins on paper, it will never take away those nine wins on the field for the girls who fought and won those games.
Especially the senior class — particularly the duo of Wruble and Bittner — who have been instrumental in not only the best individual season in school history but also the greatest four-year stretch. The two have started as freshmen from Day 1 of their careers, while Semancik joined them at the varsity level as a sophomore. Sabatose came on board last year as a junior.
Together, the group has carried on the success started early in the tenure of head coach George Heigel, as DCC tries to get to the level of Williams Valley and West Greene, which DCC beat in the state semifinals, as programs that annually play for state titles.
That ascension has happened rather quickly for DCC, which went 8-12 in Heigel’s first year as head coach in 2013. Ironically, that 2013 season also featured the last game in a DCC team was shut out in. That honor went to Smethport, which beat DCC 8-0, on April 27, 2013. The Lady Cardinals were also shut out twice earlier that season by Redbank Valley (10-0, 6 innings) and Curwensville (13-0, 5 innings).
That mark jumped to 18-3 in 2014 when the freshmen group of Jordy Frank, Riley Assalone, Macey Hanes and Libby Maurer reached the varsity level and helped lead the Lady Cardinals to their first D-9 title in 33 years.
Since then, DCC has put itself on the map when it comes to the state playoffs. That group led by Frank, Assalone, Hanes and Maurer set the standard for teams to come as they went a combined 81-10 during their four year-year careers, winning three D-9 titles and reaching the state semis twice before losing to West Greene.
Their career wins mark was eclipsed last year by the 2018 senior class, which consisted of one player in Maddie Nasuti — who was a member of four DCC squads that went a combined 83-10. Nasuti was part of two D-9 title squads and teams that reached at least the state quarterfinals each of her final three seasons.
Members of both those senior classes were on hand to cheer on the this year’s squad throughout the state playoffs.
Now Wruble and Bittner can lay claim to being the winningest senior duo in DCC history, no matter how you add up their wins and losses. Central Catholic won at least 20 games on the field all four years the pair played, with their final high school record being an impressive 93-7.
When you take into account the unfortunate forfeit losses this season, Wruble and Bittner were still 84-16 over four years — giving them one more win then Nasuti had in her career.
“The seniors have certainly helped put the program on the map,” said Heigel. “Carley and Alyssa are silent leaders. They work hard and set good examples. They were always there at offseason workouts and worked hard in the weight room, which is a big thing for us.
“But, Ashley was the vocal leader clearly. Everybody knows that and sees that. We’re going to miss her fire and emotion. They (seniors) are all going to be missed, but Ashley is one of the best players I’ve ever coached. She ranks right up there with Jordy Frank. I think she is a D-I hitter, and and I wish her the best of luck in college at St. Francis.”
The question now is, how long will Wruble and Bittner’s career mark — whether you use 93 or 84 wins. The duo, along with Semancik and Sabatose, have now passed the torch to the next group of seniors just like the ones before them did to continue the program’s current run of success and keep the Lady Cardinals in the state title game picture.
And, it appears they have left things in good hands with the likes of juniors Shayleigh Gulvas, Maia Cogley and Jordy Kosko; sophomores Mia Meholick, Shyanne Lundy and Cheslea Busatto and freshmen Avery Sickeri, Morgan Tyler and Madison Hoyt back. All of those players started at some point during the season.
“I hope this feeling (loss to Williams Valley) motivates the girls because we have a lot of players coming back,” said Heigel. “We should be good again, but to get back here (state finals) will be tough. We won a couple games in the state tournament by one run. We were living in the edge against Claysburg-Kimmel (6-5, 9-inning win) and hung on for dear life against West Greene (3-2 win)
“It’s nice we’ve had a nice spread of talent with our juniors, sophomores and freshmen — and some talent coming up from middle school — that we can keep building. I don’t know if we’ll ever have a team that can hit 1 through 9 like this team hit. Ironically, that didn’t manifest itself in today.
“I’m hoping this (state finals run) does give them a positive feeling going into next year. Two weeks from now we’ll be back in the weight room. I guess I’ll find out, depending on if I got five or six girls showing up to weightlifting or I got 14 or 15. That will be the key.”