Ligonier Valley softball team has come a long way under coach Zimmerman

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 5:09 PM

When Mark Zimmerman became the Ligonier Valley softball coach 22 years ago, the program wasn’t very good.

And it took Zimmerman almost nine years before the team became a consistent winner in District 6.

“The 2008 team got us going,” Zimmerman said. “We won our first Heritage Conference title. They set the foundation for the program.”

And Ligonier Valley hasn’t looked back.

Now the Rams (22-2) are in the PIAA Class 2A championship game at 11 a.m. Thursday, against Line Mountain (19-3) at Penn State’s Beard Field at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

The 2010 team won the District 6 Class A title, defeating Claysburg-Kimmel, 2-1, on a squeeze play, and the 2018 team lost to Philipsburg-Osceola, 2-0, in the 2017 Class AA title game.

During that span Ligonier Valley has sent a lot of players to college. That included pitcher Christine Henderson (Seton Hill), outfielder Maddy Grimm (Kent State), Kristen Gabelt (Robert Morris), Jane Garver (Robert Morris), Amber Tutino (Point Park) and Lexi Petrof (Akron).

“The girls started playing travel ball, going to camps and learning how to pitch,” Zimmerman said. “They started following our offseason workouts. They won a lot of games.”

Zimmerman also beefed up the nonsection schedule. He scrimmages Hempfield yearly and played Punxsutawney, Belle Vernon, Connellsville, Chartiers Valley and Mt. Pleasant.

The Vikings, who are playing in the Class 3A title game, were the only team to defeat the Rams before the WPIAL playoffs.

“We’re always looking to play good competition,” Zimmerman said. “It makes you better.”

Zimmerman said he didn’t know what to expect this season after switching to the WPIAL. But as the season progressed and the team continued to improve, he and his coaches felt something special was happening.

“We were eager to see how things played out,” Zimmerman said. “We knew Maddie was going to be good, but we were unsure what was going to happen. We said to ourselves, ‘Maybe this team is a little better than we thought.’ ”

Ligonier Valley rolled through section play undefeated and was seeded No. 1 for the WPIAL playoffs. The Rams lost a tough game to Shenango in the district semifinals but bounced back to win four consecutive games, including an impressive 6-1 decision against Union City in the state semifinals.

“It’s hard to compare teams over the years,” Zimmerman said. “We might have had a better team that just got beat by another better team in the district. This team found a way to get it done.”

Thanks in no small part to the pitching of Maddie Griffin, who has thrown 11 no-hitters and struck out 299.

The junior said she hasn’t been pleased with the way she has been throwing the past few weeks, but Zimmerman said he isn’t worried.

“Maddie’s OK,” Zimmerman said. “She does a great job changing her speeds and hitting her spots. And now the offense is taking pressure off her by producing runs.”

Ligonier Valley will need another strong effort from Griffin and her teammates if it wants to win the school’s first state title.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .


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