Many members of the Twin Valley High School softball team have a long history together, as some have been teammates since playing little league, but following this year’s 20-0 regular season, the team itself has made history by becoming the first Twin Valley High School team to go undefeated in the regular season.
“This year everything just clicked,” said Raiders head coach Jeff Cellucci, “we have had girls on this team who have been playing together for a long time. Last year they had worked really hard and steadily improved, making the playoffs and having some success there.”
Cellucci has coached softball for 23 years, including 11 years at Downingtown West where he coached another undefeated team, but he said that this Raider’s squad is special because it is the best cohesive group that he has ever coached.
“These girls are the best unit of players I have ever coached. They are close-knit and they love to fight hard for wins.”
Cellucci said that going undefeated was not a goal at the start of their season, but it is clearly an incredible feat.
“We feel a sense of great accomplishment,” he said. “At the start of the season we had set two goals for ourselves – to win the division, which we did, and to get to the final game of the county playoffs, which we did not, because we lost key players to injury late in the season. Had it not been for those injuries I think we could have gone 31-0.”
“For the last few years the softball team has not gotten the recognition it has deserved, and now I’ll pass someone in the hallway and they will say ‘Congratulations, you guys are great. It must feel so good’ and it does. It is a really great feeling,” said senior catcher Brooke Warren.
The team was well balanced in both tangible and intangible ways. Cellucci remarked on the how his players were always relaxed and having fun. Plus they had the experience of past playoffs runs to bolster their confidence. Then there were the X’s and O’s. Their pitching and fielding were very strong, and their hitting was phenomenal.
“We are a strong hitting team (in lineup positions) 1-9,” said Cellucci. “Our 1-7 hitters, any of them are capable of hitting a double, and our 8-9 hitters, they just had a knack for being able to get on base. Even when our pitching was off, our hitting would come through.”
Rather than avoiding acknowledgement of its presence, the team used the streak of wins as a motivational force. Once the Raiders had won ten straight the team mantra became ‘refuse to lose’.
In the second half of the season, as the wins kept coming, the pressure built as well.
In their eighteenth game of the season, the game that would see them named as division champions, they pulled off a dramatic 2-1 ten-inning thriller versus Schuylkill Valley.
“After we went in to the tenth inning and came out with a victory we realized that it was possible for us to win every (regular season) game, but we still focused on just playing one game at a time,” said senior center fielder Laura Lawson. “We didn’t look back and we didn’t look forward, we just did our job game by game.”
Then came the regular season finale against Fleetwood.
“It was a great pitching duel with a playoff atmosphere,” Cellucci recalled. “We were down by a score of 6-2 with only six outs left.”
In the sixth inning the Raiders closed the gap with a two-run home run, and then scored three more runs in the seventh inning to take a 7-6 lead. In the bottom of the seventh inning, pitcher Sam Lichtner and the defense closed out the opposition, and thus history was made.
“It was definitely exciting for us because we were down the whole game,” said Lichtner. “We knew the big meat of their order was coming up and that it wasn’t going to be an easy inning and that we had to do all that we could to make the plays and get the job done.”
“After those big victories earlier in the season the team believed that they could come back from anything,” said Cellucci. “We didn’t celebrate too much because we knew that there was more success to be had, and they all wanted it.”
Yet the injury bug had bitten the Raiders at a very cruel time, as both Warren and outfielder Devon Haddow were sidelined for the Berks County League Playoffs, and Twin Valley’s aspirations for a county title were derailed in a semi-final round loss to Wilson.
Up next, however, are the district playoffs which begin on May 21 against Hamburg. If the Raiders can win a few rounds, Cellucci can envision Warren and Haddow returning to the team. With a completely healthy lineup, winning districts and then going on to the AAA State playoffs are a distinct possibility.
“Being undefeated was pretty exciting, but that’s just the regular season. What matters is the post season and we are still going to work hard for that,” said Lichtner.