In a state the size of Pennsylvania, reaching a state championship tournament is a rare occasion.
In Part II of The Spirit Sports Year in Review, readers will have the opportunity to look back on eight different 2011 Punxsutawney teams that reached that level — one team even won its state title.
There was no lack of newsworthy sports in Punxsutawney this year, and The Spirit will feature one final installment of Year in Review in Saturday's edition.
13- & 14-year- old VFW All- Stars win states
After losing the first championship game early in the afternoon, Punxsy's 13- and 14-year old VFW Teener League All-Stars bounced back to win the winner-take-all championship game in the late afternoon to earn the title of state champs Aug. 1 in Punxsutawney.
Trailing 4-1, Punxsy scored nine runs in the top of the fourth inning to take a 10-4 lead over Schuylkill.
The big inning would prove to be enough as Brycen Paulinellie pitched a complete game, allowing six runs on nine hits and striking out ten, to earn the 14-6 win.
"Part of winning the whole thing is that we were well rested, having only played one game each day leading up to today," Punxsy manager Doug Mesoraco said. "I think we just had a little more gas in the tank. Brycen was well rested, and he really threw a tremendous game."
Pitching wasn't the only strong point for Punxsy in the deciding game, though, as it poured on 14 runs against four different Schuylkill pitchers.
Mesoraco said that the championship was the result of months of hard work and practice, and winning the state championship meant it was all worth it.
"The fact is that this group of guys has been together since the end of February when we started practicing in the gym," he said. "It's been five full months of practicing and playing games, and you always want to get to that big game.
"Being the host, we really wanted to bring home the state championship, and put all that hard work into a win. We did it the hard way today, but we got it done."
According to Mesoraco, Punxsy hasn't hosted a tournament of this nature since 1990, and he was thrilled to win the tournament as the host.
He was also thinking about the future after the game.
"This team came together from the beginning, and we're still working really hard," he said. "We have two years with these same guys, and I expect big things from them next year, too."
15- & 16-year- olds earn state berth, as well
Punxsy's 15- and 16-year- old VFW Teener League All- Stars fell to Altoona, 3-2, in the opening round of the losers' bracket at the state tournament Aug. 6 in Huntingdon.
Things looked promising for Punxsy, which jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, but Punxsy was able to manage only one hit throughout the final six innings and was eliminated with the loss.
Punxsy manager Mike Klingensmith said he's been around this game long enough to know, "Sometimes, the hits just don't come your way."
Michael Klingensmith pitched two scoreless innings for Punxsy, striking out four and allowing just one hit. Scotty Thompson pitched the final five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and was charged with the loss.
Despite the fact that his boys lost, manager Klingensmith emphasized that he was proud of them for playing their hardest. Even without winning a game at the state tournament, they still placed seventh in the state for the VFW Teener League All-Stars.
PAHS baseball team makes elite eight
June 6, in Brockway, Punxsy's No. 9 hitter Devan Neal drove in Punxsy's first two runs with a two-out single. Following his breakout hit, he finished the game 3-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored during the Chucks' PIAA playoff-opening victory over Hampton, 11-1 in five innings, advancing the Chucks to the state's elite eight.
After they fell in the first round of the state playoffs the past three seasons, the eight-time reigning District IX Class AAA Champion Chucks surpassed the first round for the first time since they won the state title in 2007.
Neal wasn't the only star of the game for the Chucks. Taylor Neal, was 3-for-4 with two runs and a run; Brodi Lowmaster was 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run; Jordan Mesoraco was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs; Tyler Skerkavich was 2-for-3 with a double and a run; Zak Dickey was 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI; and courtesy runners Alex Bevak and Garrett Zimmerman each scored twice.
Clearly, the Chucks (15-7) were hitting from top to bottom — something that's been a key to their success this year.
Punxsy hit in the clutch throughout the game. Devan Neal's two-run single and Dickey's RBI single in the second inning both came with two outs.
"We were talking about clutching up all year, trying to get ahead and putting the ball in play," Neal said about his two-run, two-out single in the second inning. "It worked out. It squeaked through."
Joe Pisano pitched all five innings. He gave up one run on two hits with three walks, two strikeouts and hit one batter. He has pitched all 19 innings for Punxsy this postseason and has allowed seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits.
Unfortunately for the Chucks, their run ended there, as they were defeated 6-1 June 9 to Northern York in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Softball squad wins 4th straight D-IX title
With silly string flying after the game was complete, it was official: The Punxsutawney Lady Chucks won their fourth consecutive District IX Class AAA Softball Championship after knocking off St Marys June 1 in Brockway, 6-4.
"To win another district title, we beat a tough opponent in St. Marys," Lady Chucks manager Alan Pifer said. "They're a good team, and it means a lot."
Punxsy starting pitcher Shawnna Crago led her team both offensively and defensively. She allowed nine hits, walked one and struck out six batters. From the plate, she went 2-for-2 with a triple, a double, a walk and two RBIs.
The Lady Chucks (13-4) had another reason to celebrate that particular win, as Pifer became the winningest softball coach in school history. Pifer now has 113 wins in seven seasons, edging out Steve Basile for the record.
"It feels great to do it in the playoffs," Pifer said. "But I have to give credit where the credit is really due, and that is with the team. ... I may get the win so to speak, but they are the ones that get me there."
The Lady Chucks advanced to the state championships, but ran into a tough opponent in Valley and fell to the Lady Vikings, 1-0, in a pitch-off.
Punxsy starting pitcher Randa Depp pitched all seven innings during the Lady Chucks' 1-0 loss.
Boys' tennis duo makes perfect run to states
No matter who they played, Punxsy junior Tim Pearce and sophomore Mike Blose weren't going to be stopped in district play this season.
The duo completed an 11-0 regular season with a 3-0 day May 20 in DuBois to claim the 2011 District IX Class AAA Boys' Tennis Doubles Championship.
As underclassmen with six seniors on the roster, it was unclear how Pearce and Blose would fit into the 2011 Chucks' plans. But a chance doubles practice early in the season started a bond on the court between the two players.
"We played together once at practice, and it just kind of clicked," Pearce said.
As the year went on, Pearce and Blose continued their undefeated play. At times, they were the only players who earned wins for Punxsy, and by the time the doubles brackets were released, they were Punxsy's No. 1 doubles team, not seniors Dave Roberts and Brandon Bish.
In the end, both of Punxsy's teams reached Friday's district final, and the underdog seniors were the ones who struck first.
Roberts and Bish won the first set, 6-3, but Pearce and Blose turned the tide to win the final two sets, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to states May 27 in Hershey.
The pair lost for the first time as a tandem, though, during the PIAA Class AAA Boys' Tennis Doubles Championships.
Girls' tennis pair surprises DuBois
The Punxsy girls' tennis squad took two teams to the District IX doubles championship tournament Oct. 11 in DuBois, and each team saw success, including a District IX championship for Punxsy's No. 1 doubles pair of Anna Monyak and Shaina Reddinger.
"Everything clicked for Anna and Shaina," Punxsy head coach Rose Graffius said after the victory. "They basically dominated the entire match."
In the opening round, Monyak and Reddinger earned a bye.
In the second round, Monyak and Reddinger faced off against DuBois' No. 2 doubles squad, Emma Stafford and Kristina Torretti.
Punxsy advanced to the championship match with an impressive 6-2, 6-0 victory.
"Both Anna and Shaina were fierce competitors at the net," Graffius said. "They moved around the court quickly to get to the ball, and they used strategy and placed their shots were they could win the point. Their serves were also good."
Monyak and Reddinger rolled to a 6-2 victory in the first set, but the Lady Beavers' pair bounced back in the second to earn a 7-6 (9-7) win and force a final deciding set.
Punxsy's duo battled their way to victory with a 6-4 third set, clinching the district title.
"Both girls wanted the win and worked hard to defeat a tough DuBois No. 1 doubles opponent to earn the championship title," Graffius said.
With the win, Monyak and Reddinger earned the right to play in the PIAA State Doubles Championship in Hershey Nov. 4 and 5.
Unfortunately, the girls lost on the opening day of that tournament.
Five XC-ers compete at PIAA state meet
The conditions were nearly perfect Nov. 5 when the Punxsy cross country teams traveled to Hershey for the PIAA Class AAA championship.
"I was happy the course was in good shape, and the weather was optimal since the district race was the complete opposite," Lady Chucks head coach George Wehrle said. "At least the girls were able to run their final race of the season with the chance of posting a decent time."
During the girls' race, Alexis Young was the first to cross the finish line for Punxsy. She completed the 3.1-mile course in 21:22 for 184th overall out of 285 runners.
Freshman Ala Small followed closely behind Young, finishing 196th overall in 21:28.
The final runner for Punxsy, Juliann Boddorf, also ran her best time of the season, placing 210th overall in 21:41.
"Once again, this meet just shows how tough it is to compete in the AAA classification," Wehrle said. "Hopefully, all the girls on our team want to get back here next year and do even better."
On the boys' side, Punxsy had just two racers — Bo Dinger and Dane Baker.
Baker placed 228th overall, completing the course in 18:20.
Freshman Dinger had a more successful race than his senior counterpart. Dinger finished the course in 18:11 for 209th place overall.
Boys' soccer earns first berth to states
In a District IX boys' soccer rematch of last year's championship game between the Punxsy Chucks and the Bradford Owls, the script looked very similar to 2010 with Punxsy scoring a first-half goal and Bradford answering with a second-half goal to send the game into overtime.
This year, though, the Chucks were the ones who earned the overtime winner and took home the D-IX Championship trophy with a 2-1 win Nov. 2 in Brockway.
"It still feels like a dream, to be quite frank," Punxsy head coach Phil Shenkle said after the game. "I'm still processing it all, but just to see these guys raise that pointer finger and go home knowing we left that legacy... that's what these guys have done."
The star of the night for Punxsy, especially on the stat sheet, was senior striker Tyler Presloid, who scored both the team's goals and added numerous other scoring opportunities. It was Presloid's goal in the eighth minute of the overtime period that clinched the D-IX title for the Chucks.
Off the stat sheet, though, it was a full-team effort that brought home the title for Punxsy, with stellar defense, good ball movement by all forwards and mid-fielders and some key saves by keeper Dan Triponey when the Chucks needed them most.
"The nice thing to see was that any guy we put on that field was giving anything he had to the point of exhaustion," Shenkle said. "We'd take them off, and they'd go right back out there. This was exactly the game we were looking for."
It wasn't until the overtime period that Presloid was able to cash in on what would be the final scoring opportunity of the game.
One other factor played a determining role, according to Shenkle.
His squad had a taste of playing in the championship game last year, but he said they really wanted to be champs this year.
"The guys wanted it," he said. "A little bit of want-to can change a lot of things."
The Chucks headed into states with high hopes but met a tough opponent in defending state champion Hampton, who defeated Punxsy 6-0 in the first round.