Highlands softball savors triumphs during historic season

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021 | 7:58 PM


A weird feeling came over Jen Koprivnikar on Tuesday.

For the first time since February, the Highlands softball coach didn’t have a practice to run or a game to plan.

The Golden Rams’ historic season came to a close Monday with a 4-0 loss to Beaver Area in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals at Mars.

“We have this group text, and I was talking to (sister and assistant coach) Jan (Blackburn),” Koprivnikar said.

“Later on, I said to everyone, ‘Anybody feel like they forgot to go somewhere today?’ The girls all liked that and responded. (Senior second baseman) Joie (Beacom) then said she woke up and checked her phone to see what time practice was.”

Despite falling a win short of the ultimate goal of reaching the state finals at Penn State, the Golden Rams, with just three seniors on their roster, made history with their first section title since 2005 and their first trip to the WPIAL title game.

Highlands earned a spot in the state tournament for only the second time in program history, and it secured its first PIAA wins against District 9 champion Clearfield and District 3 champ Bishop McDevitt.

“I think the teamwork among the players and their attitudes is what I will remember the most,” Koprivnikar said. “The girls worked so hard for each other and fought so hard for each other. We were together for five months. Our last regular-season game was (May 12), and it is now June 14, and we just finished up.

“It was special to see the girls continue to amaze people with the talent we already knew they had. In a way, we were everybody’s little secret.”

Before the playoffs began, Koprivnikar and several players said the strong Section 1-4A slate against rivals such as Knoch, Freeport and Burrell helped prepare the team for the postseason.

Highlands, the No. 5 seed for the WPIAL playoffs, came out strong with a 12-0 win over Blackhawk in the first round followed by a 10-2 victory over Montour.

A spirited rally and extra innings helped the Golden Rams topple No. 1 Elizabeth Forward in the WPIAL semifinals.

A 2-1 heartbreaker against Beaver in the WPIAL finals didn’t detour Highlands as it came out and made quick work of Clearfield, 7-1, in the PIAA first round.

Koprivnikar said she marveled at the determination and focus of her team as they waited out a nearly four-hour rain delay and a change of location to score a convincing 6-1 win over Bishop McDevitt in the quarterfinals last Thursday.

Highlands (18-6-1) wasn’t able to solve Beaver pitcher Payton List on Monday as she struck out 15 and allowed just one hit, a single in the fourth to sophomore catcher Kassidy Cambal.

Cambal also had the lone hit in the WPIAL title game against the Bobcats.

She finished her season with a team-leading .475 average (38 of 80). Junior pitcher Jaycee Haidze (.449) and sophomore first baseman Abbie Deiseroth (.430) also paced the offense.

Haidze was on point throughout the postseason with 68 strikeouts over seven games.

Koprivnikar said she appreciated the community support during the run.

“There were people on the track when we were on the (football field) for a practice, and those people were saying, ‘The whole community is behind you. Good luck. You girls are awesome,’ ” she said. “That really lifted the girls and made them feel great.”

With such a young team, thoughts already have turned to what can be accomplished next season. Koprivnikar knows they will have big targets on their backs because of this year’s success. Also back from the starting lineup are freshman designated player/right fielder Peyton Smalley, junior shortstop Jess Cekada, junior center fielder Maera Williams and sophomore left fielder Riley Pointkowski.

“Everyone is a little bit older and more experienced,” she said. “There won’t be as many nerves, although they hid their nerves really well.”

At the same time, Koprivnikar and the rest of the program bid farewell to the seniors: Beacom, starting third baseman Kylie Zourelias and starting right fielder Sara Karns.

“Sara was solid for us in right field all season,” Koprivnikar said. “She was an all-around team player. We had a designated player hit for her all year, and she didn’t complain once.

“Kylie’s bat was strong, and she made some awesome plays for us all year, especially in the playoffs. She took away a lot of runs from the opposing team with her glove.

“Joie was solid at second, and she also performed at the plate. She had such a big hit against (Bishop McDevitt).”

Koprivnikar said the shoes of the seniors will be tough to fill, but there are several younger players ready to challenge for those spots.

“It was tough keeping some of the girls out of the lineup,” she said. “We see the potential and talent in them. Some of them had some health issues and injuries, but they worked so hard this year, and they will be back and ready to go.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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