The Bob Horlacher Major girls team is used to winning on the big stage.
In fact, over the past three seasons, it’s all the girls really knew.
With two state titles to their name, Horlacher was poised for a third, cementing what would certainly be viewed as a dynasty in Little League softball.
But the target on their back has grown larger and larger with each passing game, and this time, an opponent finally figured out how to hit the final bullseye.
Horlacher’s season came to an end Saturday morning with a 5-3 loss to Warrington Warwick, a team they had previously beaten 6-5 in nine innings in the opener of the Pennsylvania Majors softball tournament on Thursday.
The girls finished the tournament in fourth place, and concluded with a 27-2 record over the past three seasons.
“I’m proud of what they were able to accomplish,” Bob Horlacher head coach Doug Jones said. “There aren’t too many teams that will have the banner and trophies like we do. They need to be very proud of the work they put in, the dedication that they had and how far they’ve come.”
With such an affinity for winning, there was little doubt that Horlacher would go down without a fight when facing elimination in their Saturday game in Greensburg, ironically on the same field they had won their first state title on.
Jena Simmons belted a three-run home run over the right field fence that gave Bob Horlacher a 3-2 lead in the third inning.
Warrington-Warwick, seeking revenge from its earlier defeat, gave the crushing blow in the sixth inning, erasing the deficit with three runs to seal the win.
“They kept doing what they needed to do to advance, but I didn’t get them as motivated as they needed to be in the last game,” Jones said. “They were weak and tired. When we needed to hit we left some runners on base and that cost us the game.”
Horlacher’s earlier defeat of Warrington-Warwick came in a nine-inning nail biter, not the way either team had hoped to open up the state tournament.
Tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Hope Jones singled home her sister, Faith, to bring home the deciding run.
Hope had a chance to be the winning run in her previous at-bat, but was thrown out at the plate vying for an inside-the-park home run.
The Jones sisters each finished the game 3 for 5 with a triple, while Faith added a double and home run.
Sarah Kuderka, Erin Dunn and Megan Straley also chipped in with two hits each.
Hope Jones struck out seven on the mound and Kuderka allowed no runs in the final three innings to pick up the win.
Horlacher’s next game came Friday morning, and ended, surprisingly, in a loss.
The girls suffered a 3-1 loss to Exton, the team they beat in last year’s state final,and were faced with having to play an elimination game later in the day.
Jones struck out nine batters on the mound and Kuderka, who plated Horlacher’s only run, and Mickayla Quick each had doubles.
Facing elimination against West Point, Kassidy Shirtz went 3 for 4 with two doubles and four RBIs to highlight a confident Bob Horlacher offense, which pulled away for a 16-7 win and a chance to play another day.
“Championship teams come back from a loss, so it became how are you going to play after that?” Jones said. “They went out there and hit the ball hard that night and were able to come up with the big win.”
Kaci Coole went 2 for 4 with a double, while a timely sacrifice bunt by Gabby Rosenthal in the third gave Horlacher the lead and sparked a rally.
On the mound, Horlacher faced a difficult pitching decision, as one player is allowed to pitch 12 innings per day, but needs a full day of rest after pitching seven innings. Quick, Kuderka, Straley and Hope Jones split pitching duties for the win.
“It was a team effort,” Jones said. “Everyone dug in and did what they needed to do.”
But a three-peat would not be in the cards, and revealed how difficult a journey it is for a team to even win its district, let alone its state.
“If you look at sports in general, repeats don’t happen very often,” Jones said. “If you show up and you’re not ready to play and things aren’t going your way, that’s it.”
And though the loss will be a tough one for the girls to swallow, the sting will eventually subside over time, and allow all of Bob Horlacher to look back with pride over what the young group of girls were able to accomplish in the past three years.
“If you think about it, every team’s season will end with a loss unless you win the Little League World Series,” Jones joked. “But we talked after the game to put into perspective where the girls started, from practicing on a little patch of grass behind the church and growing into as successful of a team as they were. We’re in a very small town and small community, but for them to develop and learn the skills that they needed to means a lot.”
Editor’s note: The 27-2 record over the past three seasons does not include Horlacher’s appearance in the Eastern U.S. Regionals, in which the girls went 3-2 for a 30-4 record. They beat eventual champ New York, but lost to Delaware and New Jersey in 2012.