Dream comes true for Coach Lee Reiser

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STATE COLLEGE - For two decades, Lee Reiser's been chasing a dream, a dream of winning a state championship.

Yet year after year, time after time, the longtime coach and his Williams Valley softball team have been turned away short of their goal.

- Denied by Minersville in the District 11 Class A playoffs.

- Denied by Camp Hill, Blue Ridge and Bristol in the first round of the state tournament.

- And denied by nearby rival Upper Dauphin in the state semifinals.

Some of those losses have been especially gut-wrenching.

In 2007, one win away from the state final, the Vikings fell 1-0 in nine innings to Upper Dauphin, the game ending on a dropped popup. Williams Valley had all kinds of chances to score that day at Harrisburg's Brightbill Park, leaving 10 runners on base, eight in scoring position.

In 2009, Bristol outlasted Williams Valley 4-3 in 10 innings in a state playoff opener at Blue Mountain's Patton Field.

The Vikings led 2-0 early before the Warriors rallied for a 3-2 edge. Williams Valley tied the game in the sixth and had the go-ahead run on second base with one out. She was stranded there.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Vikes had runners on second and third with nobody out. A line-drive double play snuffed out the rally and Williams Valley's best chance to win and advance.

Painful, depressing losses that stay with you for a long time.

This year, though, was different.

This year, this time, Reiser and Williams Valley would not be denied.

This group of Vikings have a different makeup than most. They believed they could win. Really believed it.

Reiser and his assistants Tim Herb, Ryan Underkoffler and Ashley Frontino did a brilliant job managing the kids' emotions and nervousness throughout the tournament. They got the players to smile, to become calm enough to perform under enormous pressure and growing expectations.

A special nod goes to Frontino, who helped Pinchorski mature from a good pitcher to one who throws a shutout in the state final. Pinchorski also put in countless hours of summer and offseason work to improve.

"Our pitching coach was good at calling our spots, and my defense was awesome,'' Pinchorski said.

In the district and state playoffs combined, Pinchorski went 7-0 with a 0.61 earned run average. In 46 innings, she allowed four earned runs and struck out 43.

And how about the offense?

In seven playoff games, the Vikes batted around in an inning seven times. To do that so many times takes contributions from everybody.

It also takes extreme plate discipline. They worked nine walks against Hyndman Charter and 10 against Neshannock, giving both teams a chance to self-destruct.

At times, the Lancers seemed to be in a daze as Williams Valley kept putting runs on the scoreboard.

"We didn't even realize we were winning by so much,'' Pinchorski said. "We were just playing the game to the final out. We couldn't give up.

"It felt good putting a lot of pressure on them.''

No matter the town, at least around here, an added benefit is the civic pride that grows with each victory.

As the team bus left the high school Friday morning, local fire companies and other emergency departments came out to escort the girls out of town.

The red, white and blue support at Nittany Lion Softball Park was overwhelming.

"There were people everywhere,'' Reiser said. "There were signs everywhere. We had a ton of people here today from Williams Valley.''

And the girls came home with gold medals and a huge PIAA championship trophy.

"It is just going to do wonders for the community,'' Reiser said. "The community doesn't have much, and it's going to pep them up a little bit.''

Already, the work's begun to continue their success next season. A Williams Valley travel team is competing in a tournament in Ocean City, Md.

The varsity starting lineup had two juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen. Other underclassmen are inspired to put in the effort to contribute more to the team next season.

Repeating is never easy, and it's certainly not guaranteed.

All the usual suspects in the Schuylkill League should be motivated, too, to put in the effort to make their move next spring. It will be exciting to see who gets better between now and next April.

Recalling all those near misses and disappointments underscores what these Vikings accomplished.

It's so difficult to win a state championship. It's single elimination, one and done. One bad inning, one bad game, one bad call, one bad break - any of those things can end your season.

And shatter your dreams.

This time, this year, Williams Valley made those dreams come true. Those gold medals, that big trophy - they're forever.

Forever, Williams Valley is the 2013 PIAA Class A state softball champions.

"It's really neat to have them be that focused and care that much about a sport,'' Reiser said. "That makes my job so much easier.

"You know me, I'm an old guy, and I don't want to get emotional, but I've got to give it to these girls,'' he added. "They're just such great kids.''

And now they're champions, too.

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