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Arguably the toughest stretch of competition came and went this week as four section-leading squads passed a significant test or two. A slew of challengers have plenty to be excited about as well, as the L-L regular season approaches its halfway point next week.

Here are some thoughts on the past week of softball action.

UNRIVALED RIVALRY

Wednesday’s contest between Section Three foes Donegal and Lampeter-Strasburg was anything but a disappointment as far as competitive energy goes.

Sure, it helps playing in front of a sizable crowd, and under the high-anchored lights of Garrett Field — significant in that Garrett Park, Willow Street, is the site of the L-L League Championship game year in and year out.

But as a fellow media reporter remarked during one of many post-game interviews, Indians-Pioneers “has become kind of a premier game here in the league and everybody knows it.”

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The Pioneers came out of Wednesday with a big 3-1 win over rival Donegal on April 13, 2016. Video Courtesy of LLLeagueSportsVideos.com

Yet even ignoring past playoff encounters — Donegal defeated the Pioneers 10-0 for last year’s league title and Lampeter-Strasburg overcame the Indians by a 7-5 count the year before — and Indians-Pioneers remains as ardent a rivalry as can be.

“We talked about it all week,” said Donegal coach Wayne Emenheiser after Wednesday’s game. “Especially like with our catcher. (Morgan) Biesecker is a freshman, they were like ‘you get to play the first L-S game of your life, it’s awesome. You can’t wait. You’re going to love this.’ It’s neat to see how they embrace it.”

Biesecker responded with what was nearly the play of the game, diving for Delaney Baker’s soft-as-snow blooper six feet from home plate along the first-base line. That the ball was touched in fair territory and that Baker would score the tying run in the Pioneers’ eventual 3-1 win are both beside the point.

Biesecker’s effort was characteristic of the rivalry, comparable to a diving catch by Pioneers’ shortstop Amber Schreder in the 2014 title game. Schreder, however, was a senior that year. Biesecker is a freshman having played in her first such game, with a minimum of seven more available to her as her career continues.

And chances are she’ll taste the other side of the victory coin sooner or later.

“It’s always back and forth with us, we win one, we lose one,” said L-S junior Caroline Braungard, who delivered the big hit Wednesday with a two-run single. “This game is always our toughest game; this game is always their toughest game.”

WALK-OFF WINNERS

Other strong rivalries abound in the L-L League, due, in part, to a four-section alignment that works at least adequately well within the context of softball.

In Section Four, a two-out, two-run single from freshman Alissa Binkley sealed Annville-Cleona’s 5-4 victory over Pequea Valley in what is always a season-long battle between the two.

And in Section One, reigning champion Warwick led front-running Hempfield through six innings Wednesday, before a bases-loaded single from Knights’ newcomer Gabi Turner — you guessed it, a freshman — allowed the Knights to walk-off, 4-3.

BUDDING BUDDIES

Solanco took care of business at home Wednesday, besting Garden Spot 7-3 on the strength of its offense and the arm of freshman pitcher Hanna Phillips.

Even so, Section Two seems like fertile ground for the Spartans, who nonetheless maintain a one-game lead over the Mares thanks to senior Taylor Martin’s two-hit gem in Friday’s 1-0 win versus Cedar Crest.

Last season, their first in Section Two, the Spartans finished just behind the Mares in earning a league postseason berth. This season, a potential North-South, Hatfield-McCoy type of rivalry with the Mares appears to be tilling in the proverbial, and perhaps literal, field.

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“GRADE” EIGHT

Grading eight teams that caught my eye Week Three:

1. Lampeter-Strasburg (10-0 overall, 3-0 week) — Run-rule victories against contenders A-C and Manheim Central tell the story. Gotta bring your “A”-game versus these gals. GRADE: A+

2. Hempfield (6-2 overall, 3-1 week) — A nonleague loss to Wilson on Saturday notwithstanding, the Knights are charging hard into crossover play. GRADE: A-

3.Solanco (6-3 overall, 2-1 week) — Veteran coach Brett Miller has finalized his lineup card, which bodes well for the still-developing Mares. GRADE: A-

4. Donegal (6-3 overall, 2-1 week) — Emenheiser likes the Indians’ team that showed up Wednesday, and with good reason. GRADE A-

5. Annville-Cleona (6-2 overall, 2-1 week) — A balanced squad made a week of it until L-S came to town Friday. GRADE: B-

6. Pequea Valley (7-2 overall, 2-1 week) — Having rebounded nicely from Monday’s loss, the Braves look to put it all together next week. GRADE: B-

7. Garden Spot (7-2 overall, 2-1 week) — The Spartans had as many errors Wednesday as they did runs all week. Call that an aberration. GRADE: C+

8. Manheim Central (5-4 overall, 1-1 week) — Win or lose, the Barons’ performance versus Annville-Cleona this coming Monday will be key. GRADE: C

EXTRA CREDIT: Warwick, Elco

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LEVEL THE FIELD

Unexpected upsets in crossover play tend to give teams a leg up – or down – in their respective section races. Bank on one or two results to change the L-L landscape this week. And in a game moved from Clipper Magazine Stadium due to safety concerns (there’s a giant pitching mound in the way), look for Conestoga Valley and Manheim Township to duke it out on Saturday, anyhow.

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