Week One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League softball season came and went with a blustery March wind, ending a bulk of each teams’ nonleague slate. Many of the L-L’s stalwart programs have so far stated their case for league-wide respect, while others are simply saving their best showing for section play, set to begin April 4.
Here are some thoughts on the past week of softball action.
Defending L-L champion Donegal opened with a flourish, besting last year’s Section One champ Warwick, 5-2, on opening day. But visiting Elizabethtown got to the Indians on March 28, taking advantage of a Wrigley Field kind of day in Mount Joy for an 8-6 win.
“We came out ready to hit against Donegal,” said E-town coach Gary Wylde, reflecting upon the Bears’ season-opening 3-1 loss to Central Dauphin. “I was really proud of how we hit the ball. I think the wind effected both teams… there were some shots hit in that game.”
E-town followed up the win at Donegal with an 11-4 win at Manheim Central.
Laden with a ton of experience that includes five senior captains—a first in Wylde’s 10 seasons—the Bears appear to have enough hitting and intangibles to be a force.
“We try to play tough teams to get ready for our section,” Wylde continued. “Some years we’re more successful than others. Coming out 2-1, playing three really tough games, I’m really proud of the effort that they’ve had.”
The story of Week One has to be Lampeter-Strasburg’s 4-0 start, highlighted by senior ace Jordan Weaver’s dominant pitching and clutch hitting up and down a talented lineup.
Hosting then unbeaten Penn Manor on March 30, Weaver went and no-hit the Comets with 19 strikeouts, out-dueling Comets’ talent Brittany Hook, who happened to be coming off a no-hitter of her own the previous day versus Lancaster Catholic.
But the L-S lineup capitalized on its opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings, getting RBI singles from Caroline Braungard and Hanna Garber to garner the 3-0 win.
“I just wanted them to put the bat on the ball,” said Pioneers’ coach Tim Shoff, singling-out three-year contributor Robin Feaster for a “key” two-strike bunt that setup the game’s first run.
“Of course, when Jordan is pitching like that it doesn’t take too many hits,” Shoff added, “but we want to hit a lot more consistently up and down the lineup against a pitcher like (Hook).”
With early wins over Conestoga Valley, 12-0, and Warwick, 11-3, the Pioneers’ win over Penn Manor was the linchpin in a week that concluded with a 14-1 triumph over Ephrata.
“It’s a confidence booster all around,” Weaver said after the no-hitter. “We just came together as a whole. When we needed the hits, we came and hit the ball.”
SPEAKING OF STRIKEOUTS
Weaver and Hook weren’t the only players to strut strikeout stuff from the pitching circle this season.
Though Weaver (3-0, 2ER) leads the league with 46 strikeouts in just 19 innings, Pequea Valley’s Sabrina Ryan (2-0, 1ER) has 34 strikeouts in two starts, including a 19-strikeout performance in Wednesday’s 3-2, eight-inning victory over Northeastern.
Meanwhile, Hook (2-1, 2ER) is averaging 11 strikeouts per game one year after setting a new league mark with 269, including the postseason. And don’t overlook the 38 strikeouts in three appearances this season from Manheim Township’s Reilly Gearhart (2-0).
Grading eight teams that caught my eye this week:
1. Lampeter-Strasburg (4-0) — With pitching, offense, and defense all in good form, L-S looks like the L-L’s measuring stick. GRADE: A+
2. Penn Manor (2-1) — It’s easy to grade Penn Manor solely by its pitching, but Dave Stokes’ young squad has shown even more elsewhere against teams not nicknamed the Pioneers. GRADE: A
3 .Elizabethtown (2-1) — The Bears balance of experience, speed and overall skill proves to be a nuisance for opposing teams time and time again. GRADE: A
4. Donegal (2-1) — Following their loss to Etown, the Indians regrouped by shutting-out last year’s opponent in the District 3 AAA finals, Twin Valley, by a 6-0 count. GRADE: A
5. Pequea Valley (2-0) — Ryan’s dominance, not to mention Katelyn DiLuzio’s walk-off homerun versus Northeastern, makes the Braves look like a contender even outside of Section Four. GRADE: A
6. Warwick (1-2) — Tough losses to Donegal and Lampeter-Strasburg do not a season make. GRADE: B-
7. Manheim Central (1-3) — An athletic core surrounds sophomore Maddie Walter in the circle. GRADE: C+
8. Conestoga Valley (1-2) — Once this team outgrows its youth, watch out. Hidden gems lurk everywhere. GRADE: C+
THE BEGINNING IS NEAR:
For the second straight year, four juggernauts are destined to collide in Section One, with astronomical implications. Three Comet collisions occur this week, as Penn Manor travels to Warwick on Monday, hosts Manheim Township on Wednesday, and finishes at Hempfield on Friday.