Pine Valley, Andover to face off in unlikely contest
Throughout the regular season as Forestville and North Collins racked up the wins, it almost seemed evident one of those two teams would be representing Section 6 in the Class D Far West Regionals.
Pine Valley was merely just another team in their way.
It had been a rough campaign for Pine Valley in the regular season as it stumbled to a 4-8 league record.
Then came the playoffs.
The No. 6 Lady Panthers handed No. 3 Brocton an 18-1 drubbing, then stunned No. 2 North Collins, 13-3, in the semifinals.
In the finals, it took a seventh-inning rally and extra innings for Pine Valley to pull off the improbable upset over No. 1 Forestville, 4-3, to become Section 6 Class D champions and earn an invitation to today’s Far West Regional game against Section 5’s Andover in Olean at 5 p.m.
It’s Pine Valley’s first Far West Regional appearance since 2007.
“It was kind of a rough season for us,” first-year varsity coach Danielle Arnone said. “The division we played in was tough competition. It was good in my opinion for the team. But it gave us the impression we weren’t good. It was a double-edged sword. I’m very happy with how it’s been going. It’s kind of surreal. It has happened all so quick, which is exciting too. We are on a high.”
“Beating Forestville, in my opinion, is like winning a State championship,” she continued. “They are so good and have such great talent. It’s a huge confidence booster for my girls. It’s something we preached all season. I told them if they play the best game, work hard and stay focused, they can beat anybody.”
The Lady Panthers have received stellar pitching from freshman Jessica Wilcox, who was a mid-season callup from the jayvee team.
“She came up from jayvees, struck a couple girls out and I got rejuvenated and the team did as well,” Arnone said of Wilcox’s first start.
“She is so strong and very smart. She has been learning real quickly. Every game she learned a lot – where to place the ball and what pitches to throw. I think that even though she is young, she has great composure. I think the North Collins game was a good game for her to go through in terms of things not going her way. I think she will keep getting better.”
A young pitcher won’t be a disadvantage for Pine Valley today as Andover’s pitcher is eighth-grader Gretta Howland.
“From what I have heard, she throws a fastball and has a change-up that is decent,” Arnone said. “She could be similar to any pitcher we faced in our league.”
“You can try and plan as much as you want and how you’re going to attack a team,” Arnone continued. “You want to come out strong, have good hits, run the bases right and have a good pitcher. All those combined, you’re a hard team to beat. That’s what we have been focusing on. We just want to focus on our game and make it a game that’s in our control and not theirs.”
Like Pine Valley, Andover is a team not many expected to make it out of the section as it upset No. 1 Webster Christian.
“It’s been a season of trying to get better every game and having high expectations,” Arnone said of her team. “Sometimes we were frustrated with the outcome because the score didn’t represent how well we could play. I think that going into (today’s) game, we are looking for everyone to get on base and make things happen. We don’t want to wait for the seventh inning to get going again.”
Though the season was filled with forgettable days, this postseason run has made this season for the Lady Panthers a memorable one for all the right reasons, and Arnone took a chance to thank the fans and her players for a remarkable run.
“To watch the improvements over the seasons has been awesome,” she said. “To see the girls realize their potential is the most amazing things to watch as a coach. It feels right. It feels like it’s their time. We have a great, small school with community support. We have some of the best fans. A nice thing about being from a small school is having that support.”