Early start propels Forest Hills past Philipsburg-Osceola for spot in District 6 Class 3A softball final

SIDMAN, Pa. – The Forest Hills High School softball team made sure Thursday’s District 6 Class 3A semifinal did not play out the same way as a year ago against Philipsburg-Osceola.

An opportune offense gave the Rangers an early boost as the No. 1 seed held off the Mounties late for a 10-6 triumph at G.H. Miller Memorial Field.

“I think it helps everybody play a little bit more relaxed,” Forest Hills junior Ana Spangler said of leading 5-0 early Thursday after winning 2-0 over Philipsburg-Osceola in a 2023 district semifinal. “You don’t have to worry so much about a tight game. You just kind of go out there and play your game, then just build on that.”

Forest Hills (17-2) will meet No. 2 seed Juniata (20-1), which beat Central Cambria 5-4 in 11 innings, for the second year in a row in the District 6 title game May 30 at a site and time to be announced.

The Rangers, who have won 12 straight games, tallied 15 hits and scored six runs with two outs to pull away early from No. 5 Philipsburg-Osceola (12-9).

“It gave us a big lift and we were able to have a little bit of a cushion,” Forest Hills coach Krista Hershberger said. “They were a good hitting team. I think that was huge for us to have that cushion.”

Eight Rangers provided at least one hit. Morgan Gdula and Aivah Maul each produced three hits. Payton Pcola, winning pitcher Avery Smiach and Spangler added two knocks apiece.

Forest Hills took advantage of a Philipsburg-Osceola error in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, Maul, Trista Cruley and Pcola each singled up the middle to give Forest Hills a 3-0 lead on three unearned runs.

“Our hits become contagious in that situation, and our intensity starts to rise up,” Hershberger said. “Girls just keep putting their hits together.”

In the second, Spangler doubled off the right-center field fence to drive in two runs on an 0-2 offering from junior right-hander Alivia Bizzari. Forest Hills led 5-0 after the second, with all five runs coming with two outs.

“That’s huge because it gives us an energy boost in the dugout,” Spangler said.

“Then it tires the other team out, too. You got to keep them working. There’s more pressure on them to make outs.”

“I don’t know why today we couldn’t get the third out,” Philipsburg-Osceola coach Steve Frank said.

“Their pitcher threw one heck of a game. We just couldn’t string some hits when we needed them. When we did hit the ball, we hit it right to them.”

Philipsburg-Osceola finally scored off Smiach, who struck out 15 Mounties in the 2023 meeting, in the fourth.

Maddyx Hampton (two hits) singled to center field to drive in a runner. A throwing error allowed Payton Barnett to scamper around the bases to bring the visitors within 5-2.

Forest Hills tacked on three runs in the bottom half. Mylee Gdula tripled to left-center field and drove in two runs. Spangler followed with a sacrifice fly.

Morgan Gdula’s RBI double in the fifth put the Rangers up 9-2.

In the sixth, Bizzarri (two hits) blasted a two-run homer to left-center field to trim the margin down to 9-4.

Pcola’s RBI infield single plated Forest Hills’ 10th run.

Morgan Vaughn’s RBI triple and Emily Gustkey’s run-scoring single set the final in the seventh.

Smiach, who threw 82 of her 123 pitches for strikes, struck out 10 batters in the complete-game victory.

Forest Hills is set for another shot at Juniata, which won 2-1 in eight innings over the Rangers in the 2023 district title game.

“Our goal in this program has always been to get a banner on the wall (in the gym),” Spangler said. “We were so close last year. We really want it this time.”

Juniata is led by senior left-handed pitcher Elizabeth Gaisior, who is signed to play at Fordham University.

“They have a really good pitcher,” Hershberger said of Gaisior, who fanned 19 Rangers in 2023. “We’re going to work here these next few days, working on picking up a rise ball. Making sure we’re seeing that better, working on picking up spin. She was tough against us last year. We know what we’re up against this year and we’re ready to work and try to pick up a win.”

Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.