At his team's end-of-the-year banquet, Hempfield Area softball coach Bob Kalp presents all the players who hit home runs with one of their home run balls with the dates of the home runs inscribed on them.
When he heads to DeNunzio's in Latrobe this year for his team's banquet June 18, he will be bringing with him six balls.
"Some teams have all these great hitters, it is one thing to have kids with power -- it is different when you have six kids in the dugout who you have seen do it," Kalp said.
Those big bats were one of the main reasons why the Spartans were able to stand toe-to-toe with the best the WPIAL had to offer this season.
Hempfield's postseason run came to an end on Monday with a 2-1 loss against Canon-McMillan in the first round of the PIAA tournament.
The Spartans finished the season 18-7 overall. They went 9-3 in Class AAAA Section 1 to finish behind Greater Latrobe, but in the postseason, Hempfield was the last team standing from the section.
The Spartans blasted Gateway, 14-0, in the first round and got past Shaler Area, 4-1, in the quarterfinals. They lost to eventual WPIAL champion Canon-McMillan, 5-0, in the semifinals but managed to bounce back and extend their season with a 9-5 win against Peters Township in the third-place consolation game.
Just 11 days after losing to the Big Macs, the Spartans had to play them again in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
"I don't know if I'm in love with the way they do the state playoffs," Kalp said. "The state tournament should be a tournament where you should see how you stack up with other teams from around the state."
Kalp has seen both sides of it. In 1999 after losing to Seneca Valley in the WPIAL semifinals, Hempfield got another shot at the Raiders who went on to win the WPIAL championship. In the PIAA playoffs it was Hempfield knocking off Seneca Valley on its way to a PIAA championship.
The PIAA first round was the third meeting between Hempfield and Canon-McMillan with Hempfield winning a regular-season meeting, 17-6. It remains the Big Macs' only loss.
In the WPIAL semifinals, Canon-McMillan pitcher Alayna Astuto threw a no-hitter. The Spartans responded on Monday, out-hitting Canon-McMillan six to five and coming very close to tying the score on a number of occasions.
Trailing, 2-0, Hempfield stranded the bases loaded in the fourth inning and left runners at second and third in the sixth.
In the bottom of the seventh the Spartans remained resilient. Sophomore Taylor Bartlow reached on a single and junior Alaina Montgomery came up with a double to drive her in. Montgomery advanced to third on the throw to the plate. With two outs, senior Callie Madden hit a blooper over the third baseman's head but the shortstop ran over to make a fine catch to close the game.
"They are a quality team," Canon-McMillan coach Michelle Moeller said of Hempfield. "They have a veteran team and are a perennial powerhouse. Their batters put bats on balls and it was much tighter than the WPIAL semifinals, just as we expected."
The six players who will be receiving their home run balls at the banquet are Bartlow, junior Kasey Kolick, senior Hope Pehrson, senior Justyne Falbo, sophomore Michaela Ledonne and senior Kelly Mahoney.
Kolick hit four home runs this season and Bartlow had three. Pehrson was the Big Macs' starting pitcher. She closed out her career with a strong performance, tossing a five-hitter against Canon-McMillan, one of the top offensive teams in the state.
"I was real optimistic going into the game," Kalp said of the PIAA first round matchup. "A lot of people didn't think we even had a shot with this team. There is not a great deal of difference between us.
"I told the girls, there is no reason why we can't go down there and go toe-to-toe with them."