Take away the first inning, and the Palmyra softball team played a powerhouse Lower Dauphin program on fairly even terms on Friday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, there wasn't anything even about the first inning.
Reigning Class AAAA district champ Lower Dauphin sent 12 hitters to the plate and scored eight times in the top of the first en route to an 11-1 mercy-rule drubbing of Palmyra at windy Palmyra Middle School.
Facing an uphill battle anyway with LD in town, the young Cougars contributed to their own demise with four first-inning errors, before retaining some dignity by playing four solid innings until LD's Kaylee Stoner tripled and scored on a throwing error in the fifth to eventually bring the 10-run rule into effect.
The outcome left Palmyra 0-2 overall and in the Mid-Penn Keystone Division, while LD is now off to an unsurprising 3-0 start overall and in the division it typically dominates.
"They came out hitting the ball, and we knew they were strong hitters," Palmyra head coach Tod Whitman said. "And our pitcher was leaving the ball up and that's where good hitters like it. They took advantage and hit the ball, and we pressed a little, which is what we do sometimes. We're still early in the season and still getting comfortable."
The top of the first inning began ominously for Palmyra, with Stoner and Kayla Holl reaching base on errors to open the game, and declined steadily as winning pitcher Ava Bottiglia, Paige Hollinger and Emily Lingle lashed RBI hits that chased Palmyra starter Mikayla Bomgardner from the mound before the inning was even over.
"It was a combination of them hitting the ball and us giving them extra outs," Whitman said. "That's kind of a formula for disaster."
But it did get better, or at least not worse. Helped along by commendable relief pitching from freshman Abbey Krahling and a fourth-inning steal of home by Kayla Bonawitz, who also had the Cougars' lone hit, Palmyra played LD to a 3-1 near-draw over the final four innings.
Yes, that's straining for positives a bit, but just such a mindset is what Whitman is trying to instill in the Cougars as he tries to build up the program.
"After the first inning, the game is 3-1," Whitman said. "And that's including a triple and an error that scored their last run. We played with 'em, hopefully the girls gained some confidence from that."
Krahling at least should have after allowing four hits and three runs in a solid 4 2/3 innings of relief work.
"She did," Whitman said, to the suggestion that Krahling threw well. "She's really been untested. Our backup pitching, we really haven't known what to do with it yet. That was really nice. Maybe that will take some pressure off of Mikayla, that she doesn't have to be perfect every game."
For her part, Bottiglia was close to perfect, allowing just a single to Bonawitz with two out in the first while striking out 11 and walking just two.