Every game is an opportunity, with Week Four of the L-L Softball season featuring a number of such opportunities for contending teams to climb the League standings. Yet while the crossover portion of the schedule is always intriguing, one of this week’s crossovers must be described, in part, as a missed opportunity for all those involved.
Here are some thoughts on the past week of softball action.
Saturday was meant to be a season highlight for both Conestoga Valley and Manheim Township, even before the Blue Streaks’ Reilly Gearhart had a day of milestones.
But the game between the Streaks and the Buckskins, originally scheduled for the spacious confines of Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, was preemptively moved to Township’s home park out of concern for player safety.
A PIAA ruling cited the baseball pitching mound (situated between the softball pitching circle and second base) as a potential hazard.
“There is no way of rotating it (the diamond) so that we didn’t have any part of the field raised,” Manheim Township softball coach Jennifer Breton explained earlier this month. “It’s a little bit of a disappointment but hopefully we can figure something out for the future.”
The concept of playing softball in minor league baseball stadiums isn’t a new one — National Pro Fastpitch, otherwise known as the NPF, holds many of its contests on fields designed for baseball, having played a two-game set last June at Clipper Magazine Stadium between the PA Rebellion and USSSA Pride.
Slated for the first weekend in June 2016 – one day after the District 3 finals – is another NPF series at the Clip between the Rebellion and the Dallas Charge.
Fact is, the NPF has made a business of playing softball in baseball stadiums. And last season’s series in Lancaster was widely considered a success with the same expected for this year.
The question, therefore, is whether the PIAA, the league, and interested schools will be able to find an equitable opportunity for scholastic players, as well.
“It would have been an amazing experience,” Breton said, “and we’re still working with the person corresponding with them (the PIAA) to see what we can do moving forward.”
Gearhart took matters into her own hands Saturday, pitching a two-hit shutout involving her 500th career strikeout and hitting a pair of homeruns, including a two-run shot to center to close-out a 10-0 win.
All of which are notable feats, regardless of venue. Yet despite recent renovations to Township’s varsity field, accumulating all those milestones in a minor league stadium would have been quite a story to tell.
“That would have been the icing on top of the cake,” Gearhart said after Saturday’s performance. “That would have been amazing. Sad we couldn’t play there but I’m happy we got to play at least.”
To that end, kudos to the schools and coaches for even considering to play at the Clip, at all.
CIRCLES AND SPHERES
Speaking of power-hitting pitchers, four L-L circlers have bashed homeruns so far this season.
While Gearhart leads the league with four homers, Penn Manor’s Brittany Hook joined the list Friday with her first of the season. Garden Spot’s Taylor Martin and Lampeter-Strasburg’s Jordan Weaver have also gone deep this year.
And Hempfield’s Lauren Lichtenwalner leads a dynamite offense with 15 runs batted in. It’s been said that pitchers are the best athletes on the field, but geez.
Sunny weather doesn’t necessarily lead to better defense, but such has been the case this week with an impressive display of leather.
In Section Two alone, outfielders Abby Heidelbaugh (Solanco) and Olivia Cook (Elizabethtown) made diving grabs, while their respective shortstops Randi Rambo and Emily Brubaker turned in top plays in the infield.
Grading eight teams that caught my eye Week Four:
1. Hempfield (9-2 overall, 3-0 week) — Knights continue to have fun while maintaining a business-as-usual approach. GRADE: A
2. Manheim Central (9-4 overall, 3-0 week) — Monday’s fine performance versus Annville sparked another strong week by the Barons. GRADE: A
3. Elizabethtown (10-3 overall, 3-1 week) — Bears pull out a couple of wins late versus Township and Warwick; Hempfield looms next Wednesday. GRADE: A
4. Donegal (10-3 overall, 4-0 week) — Four shutouts in a row by the Indians, including Makyla Yoder’s one-hitter versus the Braves. GRADE: A
5. Warwick (6-6 overall, 2-1 week) — Not surprisingly, the Warriors have been putting it all together lately. GRADE: A-
6. Manheim Township (5-8 overall, 1-2 week) — Despite a difficult loss on Wednesday, the Blue Streaks didn’t bat an eye. GRADE: B+
7. Pequea Valley (9-3 overall, 2-1 week) — A decent start to the week was interrupted by the Indians on Friday. GRADE: B-
8. Garden Spot (8-4 overall, 1-2 week) — Spartans cracked the scoreboard against a top pitcher Friday. They’ll need to continue that trend next week. GRADE: C+
EXTRA CREDIT: Northern Lebanon, Cocalico
While the last of crossover play wraps up Wednesday, a pair of non-league tournaments this coming Saturday will have more than just bragging rights on the line. Districts rankings are growing more relevant each week.