SCRANTON — A batch of Pittston Area senior softball players started their careers four years ago. The team finished with two wins in that first season.
Fast forward to their senior season — everything has changed.
Led by seniors Taylor Baloga, Abbey Bradigan, Julie Silinskie, Miranda Romanofski and Mindina Lieback, the Patriot softball team reached new heights over the past couple seasons. There was a first playoff win in more than a decade, and a first district championship appearance in nearly two decades.
But the seniors saw their softball careers come to a close with a 5-0 loss at the hands of Abington Heights on Wednesday at Marywood University. For the seniors, the end was a culmination of a long, hard road.
“To start out my freshman season 2-12 and finish my career in the district title game says a lot about how much work we put in the last four years,” Baloga said following the loss.
The Patriots finished the season 15-8 overall. Head coach Vito Quaglia has coached some of the seniors since Little League, and took over the program two years ago. He said they have become more than just his players, but family.
“That was hard at the end of the game,” he said. “I’ve coached that group since they were 10 and 11. It’s hard to close the door on that era.”
Against Abington Heights, the Patriots ran into a hot pitcher in senior Paige Harris. Harris kept the Patriots at bay, allowing just one hit — the first pitch she threw — in the complete game win.
The Patriots, following Lexi Felinski’s leadoff, bloop single and Taryn Ashby’s walk, put runners on first and third with no outs in the top of the first. Harris then induced Mindina Lieback to hit into a double play, leaving Felinski on third with two outs.
After cleanup hitter Baloga walked, Harris got a groundout from Alexa McHugh to end the early threat.
“She’s a good pitcher and you can’t take anything away from her,” Quaglia said of the Comet hurler. “When we did hit it hard we hit right at people. Maybe in other games they sneak by.”
Baloga settled in following Cassidy Bartkowski’s RBI double in the third inning. Down 1-0, the senior worked out of jams in the fourth and fifth inning. In the sixth, however, the flood gates opened for the Abington Heights offense. The Comets scored four in the sixth to break the game open.
“We got beat by a good team that played better than us today,” Quaglia said. “The whole picture of the season is going from 5-10 last year to playing for a district title this year. That tells you the heart and resilience this club has. This will not be the last time we’re in this game.”
The Patriots upset Abington Heights last season as District 2’s 12th seed, and later lost to eventual district champ Nanticoke, 2-1. This season, the Patriots entered the playoffs as the six-seed and rattled Coughlin, 13-0, where Baloga threw a five-inning perfect game.
In the quarterfinals, the Patriots had to get past third-seed North Pocono, and they did, 3-0. The semifinal was the game of the year for the Patriots.
Against the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2 champions, Tunkhannock, the Patriots were out to act revenge on a 7-3 loss earlier in the season where they allowed five runs in the seventh inning. In the semifinal game, the Patriots came out with an 8-7 win in nine innings. Felinski’s sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth proved to be enough for the win.
“They never wanted the season to end,” Quaglia said of his players. “For them to finally play that last out was difficult to watch. They said they expect the underclassmen to be back here next season.”
Statistically, the seniors certainly didn’t disappoint in their final season.
Baloga, as a pitcher, finished the season with a 1.50 ERA and 11 wins. She held opponents to a .179 batting average. At the plate, Baloga hit .424 with four home runs and 24 RBI. Lieback hit .400 this season with three home runs, including two grand slams, and 21 RBI. She also had eight steals.
Bradigan hit .333 with 13 RBI, while Silinskie finished at .271. Romanofski, in 10 games, hit .444 with seven RBI. Freshman Felinski led the Patriots with a .526 average – 40 hits in 76 at bats – from the leadoff spot and finished with three home runs and 10 doubles. She also had nine steals.
For the underclassmen, which also includes Alexa McHugh, who hit .391 this season and pitcher Nina Cencetti, who hit .344, Baloga hopes to return to the district final next season to watch her former teammates play.
“They need to keep believing and putting the work in the offseason,” she said. “Good things will come.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-602-0178 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick