Last season, the Greensburg Salem softball team was a hard-to-control force.
The Golden Lions won 22 of their first 24 games, often in overwhelming fashion, on their way to the program's first WPIAL championship, an eight-run win.
Because of that, Jody Morgan believed. The longtime coach saw everything she needed to know her team could be something special, that it could win a state championship.
Ultimately, that vision never played out like she imagined, as Greensburg Salem's bats fell silent in the PIAA quarterfinals in a 1-0 loss to Fort LeBoeuf.
One year later, that same instinctual feeling has returned.
"Last year we thought we could win the states," Morgan said. "Well this team right now I'm feeling can win the states and that's how we're looking at it now. ... I'm just excited to know that in possibly one game, we could be playing for a state title."
After finishing third in the WPIAL, the Golden Lions (18-2) have found their stride at the most critical juncture, advancing to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals where they will face District 1 runner-up Springfield Delco. Along with Neshannock in Class A, they are the only WPIAL softball teams remaining.
The most recent win came Thursday against Thomas Jefferson, which beat them two weeks earlier for Greensburg Salem's second loss of the season.
While some teams would attempt to downplay such a setback, the Golden Lions acknowledged it helped provide them with extra motivation.
"Losing to them in the semifinals, we wanted to come back and not lose again," senior Madison Hantz said. "We regrouped, we knew we were going to face them again, we knew what they were going to be like. It was deadlocked for six innings, but we were able to come out on top."
The 2-1 win against Thomas Jefferson, one decided by a seventh-inning home run from Hantz, was a typical finish in what has been a series of close playoff wins for Greensburg Salem. Its five playoff wins have come by a combined six runs, a streak that included one-run wins in the first round and quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs. A loss in either of those games would have ended its season.
Good fortune plays some kind of role in that trend, but for the Golden Lions, good pitching has kept them in every game.
After allowing only 0.79 runs per game in the regular season, they have given up three runs in their five playoff wins. It's a statistic that has proven especially important since they have been held to 1.8 runs per game in those contests.
Yet through all of the nail-biting finishes, Morgan holds firm in her belief -- that her team has what it takes to win it all.
"They're ready for it. I've got seven seniors on this team," she said. "They're way ready for it. I really do feel like they're going to do it this time."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.