Over the next 10 weeks, Pitt-Bradford athletics will bring you the Top 10 Moments of the 2012-13 school year.
Each week a new moment will debut, featuring insight from coaches, players, and Sports Information Director Scott Elliott. It all leads up to the No. 1 moment in Panther athletics, which will be revealed the week of Aug. 5.
No Pitt-Bradford athletic team had a bigger turnaround this year than the softball squad.
In 2012, the Panthers, who were relatively young, stumbled to a dismal 10-30 record. They started the season 1-17 and didn't win consecutive games until a month into the season. Despite the tumultuous regular season, the women secured a spot in the AMCC postseason tourney and came within a game of playing for the championship, ripping off two straight wins over teams they failed to defeat in the regular season.
That experience would carry over to 2013. Pitt-Bradford lost its first three games to start the season, but rebounded to go 5-2 in its final seven games in Florida. In their final game, starter Sydney Mosby fired a one-hitter, and the lineup roughed up New England (Maine) 7-0, a NCAA tournament team from the previous season.
The year before, the softball team failed to register a come-from-behind win. That would not be the case in 2013. In the team's first games since returning from Spring Break, the Panthers rallied twice to knock off defending AMCC champion Penn State Behrend.
It became a season-long trend. The women would finish the year with six comeback victories, each one in conference play.
The Panthers entered the AMCC tournament as the No. 3 seed and quickly dispatched of Penn State Behrend in their opening game 7-1 behind a 13-hit attack. In the nightcap, D'Youville, the No. 2 seed, ambushed Pitt-Bradford with five runs in the first three innings. The Spartans would go on to win 10-2, a devastating blow to the team's chances. Every game from there on out would be an elimination game.
But many, including myself, forgot that this same group won two elimination games the year before. In order to reach the title game, Pitt-Bradford needed to win three games on the tournament's middle day, and it would do just that.
That Saturday morning, the Panthers jumped ahead of Pitt-Greensburg 5-0 only to see the Bobcats tie the game in the late stages. In the bottom of the ninth inning, freshman Amber Fox led off the frame with a base hit, and she advanced to third on consecutive sacrifice bunts. With two outs, she scored on a passed ball for a 6-5 walk-off win.
Mosby went the distance on the mound, all while dealing with an injury on her pitching hand, and sophomore Bri Stenta accounted for half of the team's six hits.
Pitt-Bradford would turn right around and face Mount Aloysius. Following a similar script, the Panthers raced out to an early 4-2 lead. Freshman Jenifer Anthony, who earned the start, surrendered three runs in six innings to one of the league's best offenses. It was one of many noteworthy performances that weekend.
Mosby entered in the top of the seventh inning to close out the contest but yielded a game-tying RBI double. However, she would atone for her error in the bottom of the inning. She led off the frame with a base hit and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Sophomore Ang Comilla followed with a double to deep left field, scoring Mosby, giving the Panthers their second straight walk-off win, 5-4.
Senior Jamie Winzeler paced the lineup with three hits, and Mosby, Stenta and Fox each had two hits apiece.
In the final elimination game on Saturday, the Panthers met D'Youville once again with a chance to play for the AMCC championship on the line. The outcome would be a lot different from the previous night.
Comilla continued her torrid play, lacing a RBI single up the middle in the first inning to push the Panthers ahead 1-0, and sophomore Olivia Taylor added a two-run double in the fourth to stretch the lead to 3-0. Pitt-Bradford tacked on two more insurance runs in the fifth on run-scoring hits by both Comilla and freshman Meagan Lewis.
Mosby limited the Spartans to just four hits while striking out seven, and the Panthers went on to win 5-2.
Three straight elimination games, three straight wins. The Panthers personified the perseverance and grit of a veteran team, qualities they lacked the previous year. It would be a notable achievement for any team, but even more so for this group.
Pitt-Bradford would meet Penn State Altoona the next day for the AMCC championship and a bid to the NCAA tournament. It marked the first time since 2007 the softball team reached the final game.
Any tournament experience features highs and lows, and the Panthers were not immune to this. It was an emotional day for everyone involved, including head coach Tina Phillips, who is responsible for navigating the proverbial rollercoaster.
"There was a lot of emotion all day that Saturday," Phillips said. "We were at an ultimate low after losing so badly to D'Youville the night before, then going to the ultimate high of winning in extra innings, a walk-off win from a passed ball and then getting revenge back on D'Youville that third game.
"It was very exciting, though a little too nerve-racking for me."
The season would not end the way the Panthers hoped for as they were defeated by Penn State Altoona the following morning, but the journey and that particular Saturday will forever resonate with the players, including Mosby.
"My favorite moment of the tournament was the entire day Saturday," Mosby said. "With our backs against the ropes and facing elimination and the huge obstacle of having to win three games in one day ahead of us, we came together as a team and won them all.
"Every single person contributed to that day as well. It wasn't just the people who played because everyone helped from hitting to running or to just cheering and keeping everyone's spirits up on the team."
Facing elimination at any point, Taylor reflected on the team's ability to rally after the D'Youville loss and achieve something special.
"There was no game in that tournament that was going to be a sure win," Taylor said. "Every win had to be earned, and for me the best and most rewarding part of the weekend was knowing that we really came together as a team and fought our way with confidence to the final game."
Comilla remembers the tournament atmosphere, and most notably, the confidence Taylor spoke of.
"My favorite moment from the tournament atmosphere was seeing the competition we were up against," said Comilla, one of two Bradford natives on the team. "The confident attitudes that each of the teams had made everyone want to win that much more."
For Stenta and Fox, the tournament served as a stage to further showcase their abilities in a pressure environment. Both players emerged as starters during conference play and entered the postseason as critical pieces to a tournament run. Their play over the course of the three days cemented their roles going into next season.
"My favorite moment was finally coming out of my shell with my offense when I was given the opportunity to show what I can do with key hits to back up our solid pitching and help the team and playing solid defense like I did all year," said Stenta, who was named the conference's Player of the Week after hitting .643 in six tournament games.
"My favorite moment was finally being able to put everything together and pull out many hits to help the team," said Fox. "Playing in the championship was what we worked for all season and being able to make it that far felt awesome."
Pitt-Bradford finished the season with 22 wins, the fifth 20-win season under Phillips. Picked sixth in the preseason coaches' polls, the Panthers shocked everyone. Mosby was named the conference's Pitcher of the Year, and Winzeler, senior Alyssa Cunningham and Lewis joined her on the all-AMCC team. It was a truly remarkable year, one Phillips is very proud of.
"I give my players so much credit for the character they showed all season," said Phillips, who was named Coach of the Year for the second time in her career. "The fact we made the run in the 2012 tournament and won early on this season gave this team a lot of confidence."
"This group never gave up, and it showed in a lot of our wins this season. They continued the program's strong tradition. To say that I am proud of this team would only be the half of it."
I was present for the AMCC championship game, and I had been there for the last two Spring Break trips. It was an inspiring transformation, the one you only see in sports. The Panthers took their lumps in 2012, but instead of staying knocked down, they rose up collectively, and improved.
Their fighting spirit left an indelible impression on anyone who watched them this season. So why should anyone be surprised they rattled off three straight wins facing elimination? If anything, with this particular group, when the going got tough, they got tougher, and that's something any Panther can be proud of.