The bus ride back to Industry from Butler's Pullman Park Monday wasn't an easy trip for the Western Beaver baseball team.
Coming off a WPIAL Class A championship victory last week against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Golden Beavers witnessed their impressive 18-game winning streak -- as well as their season -- come to an end in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
Western Beaver suffered a 5-0 loss against District 9 runner-up Johnsonburg in the Class A state tournament. Johnsonburg (16-3) advances to the second round today and will play District 6 champion Bishop McCort.
"[Johnsonburg] definitely was by far the better team," Western Beaver coach Chad Miller said. "They were aggressive out of the gate. They got up early on us and we struggled to hit the ball. We couldn't get two hits in a row against them."
During the ride back following Monday afternoon's loss, however, Miller reflected on how far the program had come since winning just three games in 2010.
"There were times where it almost took us three years to win as many games as we did this season," Miller said. "To win this many games, to go undefeated in our section, win a section title and then a WPIAL championship is a great accomplishment.
"It hurts to think about what we might have been able to accomplish if we got past [Johnsonburg], but you can't take away what we accomplished and the fun we had this season."
After losing a pair of non-section games against South Side Beaver and Riverside at the beginning of the season, Western Beaver went a little more than two months before suffering another defeat. The Golden Beavers were 12-0 in Section 3-A and posted eight shutout victories in 10 games. They also outscored opponents, 180-32, in 19 games.
"Everyone came together," Miller said. "The maturity was there, too. They were able to accept and understand their respective roles and made the plays they needed to make every game.
"It all came together. This isn't a team that had one standout player. Every one of these guys did their job and did it well since the first game."
Miller also noted how focused his team remained all season without getting caught up in celebrating after any of their victories.
"They just kept going about their business," he said. "We went undefeated in our section and there were no high fives. After every game, the guys picked up their equipment and got back on the bus, ready for the next game.
"This was a really mellow group. There wasn't any type of celebrating until after the WPIAL championship."
After finishing the regular season with a 14-2 overall record, Western Beaver went on to defeat Jefferson-Morgan, Carmichaels, Serra Catholic and OLSH, in that order, in the WPIAL tournament.
"No one gave us a chance or any respect in Class A," Miller said. "No one gave us a chance to be in the WPIAL playoffs let alone win the championship."
With a junior-loaded lineup this season, junior right-handed pitchers Nick Miller and Steve Menich led the Golden Beavers pitching staff. Miller, who is the coach's son, went 9-2, while Menich followed with a 4-1 record.
Offensively, Miller batted .588 during the regular season, while senior Robert DiMaggio hit .422 with a team-leading 21 RBIs, 24 runs scored and four home runs.
"Robert DiMaggio and Robert Ranone, our two seniors, were two big pieces of our puzzle," coach Miller said. "They were our captains and always kept the team running.
"They provided the leadership. Those are two guys we're going to have to try to replace next year."
Miller, though, believes his team has enough remaining pieces to reload and not worry too much about rebuilding toward next season.
"These guys know what it takes to win," Miller said. "They will do the work needed in the offseason. This group could be good next year, but it's up to them.
"I believe they will, as long as they play like they did this year and not go into next season expecting to win. They're going to have to work for it."