Softball team thrived on ‘positive vibes’
No matter the outcome, Northwestern was always able to put the result in perspective.
The even-keel mentality stemmed, in large part, from the Tigers mix of youth and experience on their roster this season.
Ashley Sisco and Emily Akelaitis – the team’s only seniors – were key in helping Northwestern stay grounded after big wins, and vital to helping the team find its way through the down times.
Their leadership was on display again Friday after the Tigers’ season ended with a 5-1 loss to Blue Mountain in the District 11 Class 4A title game.
“I’m really proud of the team, even though we did lose,” said Sisco. “This is the best season I’ve had my whole entire life at Northwestern. I love all the girls on this team, so I’m happy.
“We’ve trained so hard. We’ve had the best season I’ve had as a Tiger at Northwestern, and I’m really proud of what we did. Even though we didn’t win, I’m still really proud of the team.”
Northwestern’s run to a district title game appearance and a berth in the Colonial League semifinals wasn’t without some trials and tribulation.
A 3-2 start to the season was followed by nine straight victories and a 14-1 mark in the final 15 games of the regular season.
“Going into this season, we knew we had a young team, with mostly freshmen and sophomores,” said Emily Akelaitis, a First Team Colonial League All-Star selection. “So Ashley (Sisco) and I really had to keep positive. Our main focus this year was just to keep it positive.
“We made a joke of it but it became our team motto, ‘Positive vibes only.’”
And it often worked.
Northwestern’s starting lineup against Blue Mountain featured four sophomores (Samantha Sisco, Kylie Zentz, Molly Mitman and Adana Funk), three freshmen (Brynn Balliet, Isabelle Teprovich and Morgan Farthing), and one junior (Anna Akelaitis).
“The mindset really helped a lot,” said Samantha Sisco. “If one person would make an error, thinking ‘positive vibes only’ helped because we would cheer each other up, and we just forgot about it as a team.”
“It helped greatly,” said Mitman, “because we’ve had innings where we made one error and it was error after error. This year, it was one error, and we forgot about it. We’ve all definitely grown a lot. I know I’ve seen a big difference in myself, and in the team.”
In addition to the starters, all of the Tigers reserves were also underclassmen — junior Natasha Farmer, sophomore Abigail Snyder and freshman Isabella Teprovich.
“I don’t see it as us being underclassmen,” said Anna Akelaitis. “I think that as soon as you get on varsity, everyone’s equal and it’s the same playing field. I think that our team really jelled together, even though some may say that we were younger. But I think having a younger roster brought a different vibe that added to the team.”
It was the freshman, Balliet, who helped Northwestern secure an 8-7 win over Tamaqua in the district semis last week with a walk-off double in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“Honestly, it’s going to help in future years,” said Samantha Sisco. “We have so many underclassmen on this team, and getting a little taste of it, we’re going to want it even more next year. And we will have the confidence. I think we’re going to have a good chance next year.
“We have a majority of our group coming back, and I think we’re going to have a good shot again, as long as we keep our energy up.”
While the setback certainly stings, it’s one the program will take in stride, and build on heading into next season.
“It’s tough,” said Tigers head coach Josh Zimmerman. “We were living for this year, all the way up to this point. We tried to take a mentality that we’re playing for now. Our girls got here, and you never want to short change the upperclassmen by looking forward to the next season when you have something that could be accomplished here.
“It was a special team. Being able to get to 18 wins is nothing to scoff at. Hopefully we can get back here. I hope the underclassmen learn from those mistakes that were made today, and hopefully it will pay dividends down the road. But right now, it hurts a little bit. It hurts as a coach, it hurts as a player, especially as a senior player. But they’re laying groundwork. We’ve kind of turned this program around a little bit in the past couple years. We wish we had gold around our neck instead of wearing a silver medal.”