N. Carroll coach's exit is a fundamental loss Bonnell led team to two state titles


It was much more than another loss Tuesday night when the North Carroll Panthers were eliminated from the state softball playoffs after winning their fifth straight region championship last weekend.

The post-game hugs lasted a little bit longer, as did the end-of-season speech.

"I'm going to miss you all," coach Phil Bonnell said to his group in his last game as the team's coach.

Bonnell, the Panthers coach for the past seven years, guided them to state titles in 1990 and 1991. He also was part of a third as an assistant coach in 1986.

In September, he'll have put in 30 years at Bethlehem Steel. Shortly after that, he and his wife Lynn plan to retire and move to Daytona Beach, Fla., where they bought a house three years ago.

"It's something my wife and I have planned for about a year now," Bonnell said. "We're looking forward to it."

Not surprising, he says it will be the players he'll miss most. He showed that after Tuesday's loss, when he said his announcement was "minor" compared to what the team accomplished this year.

"He's a very dedicated man," said North Carroll assistant coach Tom Davidson.

"He's a great leader to the kids who instills the will to win and do the best they possibly can. He drills the fundamentals and is one who believes if you do the little things, the big things will come."

No matter how the Panthers played early in a season, it was almost a sure bet they would make the state playoffs come May. Bonnell had a way of getting the most out of his players and having fun along the way.

"I try to stress fundamentally sound defense with the thought if you can keep it close and score some runs, you can win some ballgames," Bonnell said.

"I just asked the kids to give 100 percent and have fun doing it. And whether we won or lost, if they knew they gave 100 percent they could feel satisfied."

Over the years, the Panthers have won their share of games. But it might be one particular loss that best depicts Bonnell's ways.

It came in the Class 3A state semifinals in 1989 against top-seeded and unbeaten Surrattsville. In a game that lasted a state record four hours, 13 minutes, the Panthers dropped a 2-1 decision in 23 innings.

Surrattsville senior pitcher Michelle Collins -- who finished her high school career with a 57-1 record -- struck out 52 Panthers that day.

North Carroll got a strong effort out of pitcher Tracey Carter, who allowed just the two runs on nine hits and one walk. In the 23 innings, she only struck out one batter -- the Panthers' defense did the rest.

There will be no more "OK, ladies, we need a 1-2-3 inning," and you no longer will see Bonnell coaching third yelling to a player on first to get back on the bag when she strays a bit away.

The strong North Carroll softball tradition began before Bonnell's arrival -- the Panthers have won six state titles -- and likely will continue after his retirement, but things won't quite be the same without the guy affectionately called "Mr. Phil" by his players.

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