The Zak Zone
Go or go home; do or die; put up or shut up; this one's for all the marbles.
No matter how you say it, there is nothing more exciting for a sports fan than an elimination game — and nothing more gut-wrenching if it's your team that's putting it all on the line in the go or go home fashion.
Wednesday, two PAHS teams competed in do or die fashion against the St. Marys squads at their respective District IX Championship games in Brockway: The softball team and the baseball team.
Both teams did just what the loyal Punxsy fans who made the trip — hopeful and wanting a pair of D-IX titles — desired.
The boys earned their ninth-straight title with a convincing 6-0 victory over St. Marys behind a solid pitching performance by junior Jamie Bush and a five-run first inning sparked by a Ty Zimmerman home run.
The girls played small ball perfectly and earned a 7-1 victory over the Lady Dutch for their fifth straight title — an astounding feat in its own right.
Both Punxsy squads will be awarded with another opportunity to make a run at a title — this time, a state title. Both of those quests will begin Monday with PIAA State Championship Tournament games.
For all four teams involved, though, one thing was certain: They fought hard to the end.
And that's really the first real-life application that elimination games lend.
No matter what, you must realize that until the final strike is called, the final whistle is blown or the horn blows to end the game, you're still alive if the game's still going on.
Many times after an elimination contest, I've heard one of the coaches say, "Neither team deserved to lose this one."
And as heart-breaking as it is to be on the losing end, to know that people out there think that is the best thing that can be said about the losing squad.
Because the second lesson that elimination games will certainly teach us is that, when it comes down to it, somebody always loses.
Now, some regular season sports have incorporated ties into their scoring system, but nobody really feels settled about a tie.
Fans and players alike go to the games to walk away feeling victorious, and a tie makes everyone feel like a loser in a sense, because nobody won.
It says to both teams, "You could have done better."
And no athlete likes to walk away feeling they could have done better.
But in an elimination game, there must always be a way to determine whether one team advances to the next level or its opponent does; to determine which team is crowned champion.
And in those lessons, we begin to learn that we win some, and we lose some.
I've written about it as a fan sitting there staring blankly at a wall before, but some of the most gut-wrenching things for me to watch, unless I'm too busy celebrating my team's victory, is a player on the team on the "go home" end of the deal.
For every bench-clearing celebration, there's a team that walks off the field with heads bowed, wondering, "What could we have done differently?"
For some on the Dutch and Lady Dutch, Wednesday was the final game of their high school athletics careers, with the spring season concluding the graduating Class of 2012's year.
And for them, simply looking back on the fact that they "didn't make it" just isn't a great way to look at it.
I kept my eye on two different championship games Wednesday, and while two teams walked away D-IX champions and were granted the right to play another day, two teams walked away winners in their own right — not because "everyone's a winner," but because they lost and did so respectfully and by giving their all.
Congratulations to the Chucks and Lady Chucks. It will be a pleasure to follow you as you aim for the title of state championships.
To the Punxsy teams — who will now advance to play at least one more elimination game, and hopefully more — I say, "Good luck," and to the others whose seasons have ended, I say, "Well done."