Jun. 12—Cloudy skies and rain greeted the Highlands softball team Friday afternoon as they gathered for practice in preparation for Monday's PIAA Class 4A semifinal against Beaver.
The Golden Rams, who are focused in on the WPIAL title game rematch, saw enough rain Thursday to last a lifetime in a state-tournament adventure that went on for nearly nine hours and spanned two facilities.
But in the end, the Highlands players kept their postseason train rolling with a convincing 6-1 victory over District 3 champion Bishop McDevitt at Central Cambria High School.
"That was one of the craziest softball stories, and it is something we are all going to remember for a long time," sophomore left fielder Riley Pointkowski said Friday.
"It will be fun to tell my kids, 'Hey, this is how we won that state quarterfinal game.' We were sitting on the bus thinking we didn't want to wait all this time and then not take a win home. It gave us more motivation to come out and get the win."
How were the players able to keep a level head while waiting out the wet weather and the uncertainty of when they would play?
Games of UNO, calls to family and friends, quick naps, taking walks, having some food or simply conversing about the day and every other topic under the sun, or clouds for that matter, passed the time until it was time to perform.
"We knew we wanted to play, no matter how late it was, and we weren't getting distracted," senior third baseman Kylie Zourelias said.
"When they got on the bus and said, 'We're starting. Let's go,' we were ready."
Highlands arrived at Mt. Aloysius College at around 2 p.m. A tarp was on the field as rain had blanketed the campus in the hours leading up to the original 1:30 p.m. start time for the Class 2A battle between Ligonier Valley and District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge.
"We had the feeling at that time that it could be a long day," Zourelias said.
At 3:15, the Rams and Lions began their game, and the sun was shining brightly. It gave the Highlands and Bishop McDevitt players and coaches an idea of when they might start.
But at 4:45 p.m., rain had returned in force, and the first game game was suspended in the sixth inning.
About 15 minutes earlier, Highlands and Bishop McDevitt were sent to Central Cambria to play on its brand-new artificial turf field. At 5 p.m., Ligonier Valley and Chestnut Ridge also had their game moved to Central Cambria.
Rain persisted, however, and PIAA officials called the first game with Ligonier Valley winning 1-0.
But those same officials were determined to get the Highlands-Bishop McDevitt game played. The Golden Rams drove 90 minutes from Natrona Heights, and the Crusaders traveled two and a half hours from Harrisburg.
"On the bus, nobody was down," Highlands coach Jen Koprivnikar said.
"We were all kind of joking around about the whole thing. It was out of our control. The girls stayed occupied but also stayed mentally prepared."
With the rain finally coming to a halt shortly before 8, the teams took the field for warm-ups under the lights.
The contest moved fast with the final pitch from Golden Rams junior standout Jaycee Haidze coming at 10:01 p.m. Haidze struck out her pitching counterpart Olivia Murphy and cleanup hitter Rachel Seneca to end a seventh-inning rally attempt and seal Highlands' 18th win of the season in 24 games.
Haidze tripled to lead off the second inning and scored the Golden Rams' first run on a ground out off the bat of fellow junior Abbie Deiseroth.
Senior Joie Beacom provided some insurance with a two-run single in the fifth.
Jess Cekada belted her first varsity home run, a two-run shot in the sixth. Zourelias tallied an RBI single earlier in the frame.
"It ended up being a long day, but it was worth the wait," Zourelias said. "The bus ride home felt great. We were so happy."
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .