In February, Franklin Regional head coach Jim Armstrong was sitting with his feet up on a chair in athletic director Zachary Kessler's office. When Kessler asked him what he was thinking about, Armstrong did not hesitate with his response.
"I was just thinking what I was going to say when I win the WPIAL," Kessler said.
Three months later, Armstrong got his chance to speak after his Panthers defeated Trinity, 2-0, at Lilly Field on the campus of California University to win the school's first WPIAL softball championship with a 20-0 record.
Armstrong and his team had to wait an hour for the rain to end, but made quick work of the Hillers, finishing the game in one hour.
Once the teams took the field, Franklin Regional immediately jumped on Trinity pitcher Michelle Massie.
Senior first basemen Courtney Manovich hit a one-out, ground ball up the middle. Hillers shortstop Kilee Bonazza stopped it but could not throw to first in time. The next batter, right fielder Amy Wengryzn, hit a ground ball right at Bonazza, but she bobbled the ball when she went to grab it out of her glove. Franklin Regional's cleanup hitter, senior pitcher Ally Vrcek, struck out, but Ashley Dolan followed with a single to right. Trinity right fielder Courtney Brown was able to field the ball quickly enough to prevent Manovich from advancing past third, and the bases were loaded with two outs for senior third baseman Kate Dodsworth.
Dodsworth delivered in the clutch, singling to center and driving in the only runs.
"The whole beginning of the game I had butterflies in my stomach," Dodsworth said.
"But once the girls started to get on and [Massie] was throwing it all over the plate, I just got a hold of one. It felt good to drive in those runs."
After a shaky first, the Trinity defense settled down, especially Bonazza, who made a great running catch on a foul ball to end the fourth. But the Hillers' bats never caught up to Vrcek, who. yielded two hits over seven innings while striking out six and walking none.
Vrcek took it upon herself to keep the Hillers off the scoreboard after her team handed her an early lead.
"I was like, 'OK, now I have to go out and do my job," Vrcek said.
"Because I know my team is doing their job. I was just happy we got one [run], but two was awesome."
It was the perfect ending for Franklin Regional, topped off with a watercooler shower and a shaving-cream pie to the face for Armstrong. After the game, he spoke to his team with tears in his eyes, telling them he could not have asked for a better group of girls.
Franklin Regional will try to continue its magical run in the PIAA playoffs, which begin Monday against either the District 6 or District 9 champion.
"We just take it one game at a time," Armstrong said.
"Everything we do, it's one pitch, one at-bat. We went with the [motto], 'Keep your eye on the prize.'
"And the ball is the prize. Every pitch, every hit is the prize."
Laura Keeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2193.