Twin Valley honoring 1977 softball state champion

Twin Valley softball 1977

Twin Valley’s softball team began the 1977 season as a promising squad with plenty of potential.

Some three months later, the Raiders had secured a lasting legacy as the school’s “Golden Girls” of the diamond.

While Star Wars made its big-screen debut, Julius Erving led the 76ers to an NBA finals appearance and Seattle Slew was on his way to the Triple Crown, the Raiders were busy conducting a spectacular, scorched-field campaign.

They went 27-1 and brought home the Berks League, District 3 and PIAA championships – Twin Valley’s first state title in a team sport.

To commemorate the 40-year anniversary of their dream season, the ‘77 Raiders will be honored May 3, with members of that team throwing out first pitches prior to Twin Valley’s home game against Wilson.

“They were an exceptionally talented group of girls,” said Marty Hassler, the longtime TV athletic director who assumed the coaching role that spring.

The Raiders featured a one-two knockout mound punch of senior Lana (Hassler) Smith, Marty’s daughter, and sophomore Brenda (Stauffer) Hoffman. Smith, a right-hander, racked up a 19-1 mark and also hit .443 with a team-high 55 RBI while alternating with the left-handed Stauffer at shortstop. Hoffman, a future field hockey Olympian, hit a team-best .521 and had an 8-0 pitching record.

“I would say some of the other girls fed off of Brenda and Lana,” Hassler said. “When they got into hitting mode, you couldn’t stop us.”

Third baseman Denise Filmore (.447); outfielders Kim Ink (.433), Jane McEwen (.396) and Janice Dentel (.363); and first baseman Lisa Filmore (.323) also packed potent offensive punch for a lineup that won 12 games via the newly-instituted 10-run rule.

Freshman catcher Terri Thomas – whose two-run, walkoff inside-the-park homer provided a storybook ending to the 6-5 state-championship win over Southern Lehigh – and junior second baseman Karen Stauffer rounded out the starting lineup, with Jamie Nuse, Diane Filmore and Kim McGowan the top options off the bench.

“I just think we were a team in every sense of the word,” said Smith, a field hockey standout who went on to play both sports at Bridgeport (Conn.) University. “When we were out there on the field, everybody stuck together.”

“The team got along real well,” echoed Hoffman. “A lot of our skill had to do with what we did over the summer leagues, which were huge back then. Between Morgantown, Honey Brook and Plowville, the summer leagues were really competitive.”

* * *Twin Valley began the season with a 33-5 non-league rout of neighboring Owen J. Roberts that raised a few eyebrows and fostered what was reported at the time as “administrative discontent,” over the substitution polices (or lack thereof) by coach Margie Stewart. Stewart wound up resigning, and Hassler took over on an interim basis - but wound up finishing out the year when there were no other applicants.

Hassler, a former Raiders baseball coach, had guided Morgantown’s Legion baseball team to a third-place finish in the ‘68 state tourney.

Despite the coaching transition, Twin Valley didn’t miss a beat. The Raiders reeled off 10 straight wins before falling 4-3 to Brandywine Heights, a game in which Hoffman suffered a sprained ankle.

That, however, would be the final time the Raiders would taste defeat as they outscored their opposition 303-65 (an average of 10.8-2.3) on the season.

“We were solid all over,” Hoffman said. “Our fielding was solid, our pitching was solid and our hitting was solid. There wasn’t really a weakness.”

After claiming the Berks League’s Eastern Division championship with an 8-0 victory over Kutztown, Twin Valley cruised to the District 3 title with victories over Boiling Springs (8-4), Hershey (15-5) and Red Land (18-1). In the district championship, Ink went 4-for-5 with four RBI and three runs and Smith tossed a three-hitter with four strikeouts.

From there it was off to the PIAA tournament at Shippensburg University, where the Raiders won four games in two days to make history.

In the opening round, Smith fired a two-hitter and Hoffman and Lisa Filmore collected three hits apiece to spearhead a 10-1 victory over State College. Then in the quarters, Hoffman was 3-for-3 with a homer, three runs and two RBI while also going the route on a five-hitter and Denise Filmore went 3-for-4 with three RBI in a 13-2 victory over Chestnut Ridge.

That set up a semifinal tilt with Downingtown, which Twin Valley had dispatched 3-1 in the season’s second game. This time around, Smith struck out six on a three-hitter and Dentel went 3-for-3 for the Raiders in a 3-0 win.

In the state final, Twin Valley rallied from a 4-1 deficit to draw even, but Southern Lehigh got an RBI single from Lora Huber to go up 5-4 in the top of the seventh.

Ink singled to open the Raiders half before being forced when Smith reached base. That set the stage for Thomas, who to that point had been 0-for-11 in the tourney. She changed all of that in one swing, however, smoking an offering from Laura Trexler down the left-field line and circling the bases to set off a wild celebration.

Ironically, Twin Valley’s Sonya Sims also became a state champion that same day in Shippensburg, bringing home a PIAA girls track gold medal in the high jump.

According to Hoffman, the softball squad had no idea of the magnitude of its accomplishment until their bus got within sight of the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Morgantown exit, where a big congratulatory “Welcome Home Champs” sign was hanging from a bridge lined with proud community members.

Police and fire trucks were waiting to escort them for an impromptu parade through Honey Brook, Morgantown and Elverson.

“When the girls saw that, they started to cry,” Hassler said.

* * *Believe it or not, Twin Valley still had more softball to play - namely the Berks League championship series against Conrad Weiser, which had been rained out a few weeks earlier.

And Hassler made sure his charges understood the importance of not resting on their laurels.

“I remember telling them how embarrassing it would be if we lost the county title right after winning states,” he said.

“Everybody was a little nervous about it,” Smith said. “It was like, ‘We just won the state championship, so we better not lay an egg here.’”

Those worries proved to be for naught. In a tour-de-force, two-game sweep at Leesport’s Walt Pearson Field, the Raiders beat Conrad Weiser 18-4 and 18-3. In Game 1, Thomas went 4-for-4 with three runs, Smith struck out eight over five innings of five-hit ball, Ink was 3-for-4 with four RBI and Hoffman homered and drove in three runs. And in the finale, leadoff hitter Lisa Filmore went 3-for-3 with four runs and Denise Filmore, Smith and Hoffman each drove in three runs.

Hassler wound up stepping down as coach immediately following the county championship, and would continue serving as AD until 1989. Though he eventually retired from the district in ‘91, Hassler still serves as a bus driver for several of the Raiders sports teams, most notably the 2015 field hockey squad that brought home another state title.

“Marty always kept us focused on doing what we needed to do to improve,” said Hoffman, whose daughter Ashley is a field hockey standout at North Carolina and recent callup to the United States national team. “I don’t think we ever thought about going all the way. We played one game at a time and Marty kept us pretty down to earth as far as that was concerned.”

“Every once and a while talent will come together, and we had good teaching at a young age all the way up through,” said Smith, whose husband Len was a standout for Twin Valley High and Morgantown Legion in the late 60s, while son Brad was a star hurler for the Raiders’ District 3-AAA championship squad in ‘09 and PIAA semifinalist in ‘10.

“That (‘77) team was so eager to learn anything, and man, they picked it up right away,” Hassler said. “They were so dedicated.”

And decorated, thanks to that golden spring 40 years ago.

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