The last week in April proved to be another busy week across the L-L, the close of crossover play on Wednesday ushering in the return to sectional play on Friday, before a pair of Saturday tournaments allowed its participants to gear up for the post-season.
Here are some thoughts on the past week of softball action:
THE “CIRCUS EXPERIENCE”
One of the few teams to savor its non-league opportunities, the Hempfield Black Knights played just one non-league game prior to league play in a time that many L-L squads played their entire non-league slate.
To the Knights’ benefit, of course, was the chance to participate in the Exeter Tournament, held on April 30, versus a couple of opponents that Lancaster-area teams don’t normally see until Districts and in an atmosphere not readily available in a typical regular season game.
“What do you think it’s going to be like at district championships? What do you think it’s going to be like at States?” proposed Knights’ head coach Brian Lohr in the days leading up to the tournament. “We want to be able to swim with the sharks. So alright, there’s a lot of hooting and hollering. Take care of business, take care of the game in front of you.”
Before they could take on senior prom Saturday evening, the Lady Knights held serve on the softball field, falling 6-3 to Berks County host Exeter—ranked #2 among Quad-A teams in District 3—and later posting an 8-3 win over Cedar Cliff out of the Mid-Penn.
Unfortunately, last year’s PIAA runner-up, Cumberland Valley, dropped out of the tournament in order to host District 1 Parkland in a game that was, incidentally, postponed by weather. Still, the potential is there to expand the tournament concept across the district and to include more Lancaster County teams.
“One of the things our athletic director has informed me is that we’re sort of forming alliances so that you get a bigger format,” said Lohr, listing Lower Dauphin, a team that has taken part in the Williamsport tournament the last several seasons, as one such ally.
What with the high volume of travel ball players within the L-L’s ranks, high school tournaments would seem a no-brainer in a sport popularized, in part, by the grandeur of the NCAA College World Series.
Yet while Annville-Cleona held a tournament of its own on Saturday—shutting-out Cedar Crest for the Lebanon County title in a tournament that included Lebanon and Palmyra—whether other Lancaster-based programs opt to play tournaments in the future remains to be seen.
Although a strong percentage of crossover contests are competitive and players typically enjoy seeing different teams throughout the league, the fate of crossover play remains a topic of contention.
The statistics don’t lie. Led by Penn Manor’s undefeated run (the Comets outscored Section Two teams 50-2), Section One posted a 23-13 record with only Section Two stalwarts Etown and Solanco countering with winning records.
The disparity between the smaller schools is even greater, with Lampeter-Strasburg, Donegal, and Manheim Central combining to go 18-0 in crossovers, shutting-out their opponents 12 times.
What is more, Elco, Northern Lebanon, and Cocalico each finished 0.500 or better as Section Three racked up a 28-8 record versus Section Four. Ouch.
Garden Spot somehow finished on the wrong side of a no-hitter but on the right side of the scoreboard Monday, April 25, 2016. Video by Daryl Simione and Kirk Neidermyer
Grading eight teams that caught my eye Week Five (with District 3 rankings):
1. Penn Manor (13-2 overall, 3-0 week) — The Comets (#5 Quad-A) have won nine in a row after their offensive outburst versus Warwick on Friday. GRADE: A+
2. Manheim Central (12-4 overall, 3-0 week) — Winners of eight in a row and eleven of twelve, the Barons (#9 Tri-A) are among the hottest teams in the L-L. GRADE: A
3. Hempfield (12-4 overall, 3-2 week) — After five games in six days, the Knights (#7 Quad-A) will be looking to settle into the familiar once again. GRADE: A-
4. Elizabethtown (12-4 overall, 2-1 week) — A tricky week could have cost the Bears (#9 Quad-A) versus Conestoga Valley on Friday. It didn’t. GRADE: B
5. Warwick (8-7 overall, 2-1 week) — Despite Friday’s outcome, the Warriors (#17 Quad-A) have played their way into District 3 contention. GRADE: B
6. Manheim Township (6-9 overall, 1-1 week) — A pair of no-hitters for Reilly Gearhart as Township (#23 Quad-A) prepares to play Section One spoiler. GRADE: B
7. Pequea Valley (9-5 overall, 0-2 week) — The Braves (#7 Dbl-A) made a game of it Monday versus unbeaten Lampeter-Strasburg; not so much Wednesday night in Manheim. GRADE: C+
8. Garden Spot (10-5 overall, 2-1 week) — The Spartans (#6 Tri-A) simply find ways to win with an up-and-down offense. GRADE: C+
EXTRA CREDIT: Annville-Cleona (#4 Dbl-A), Lampeter-Strasburg (#1 Tri-A), Donegal (#7 Tri-A), Solanco (#13 Quad-A)
Revenge is on the forefront of many players’ minds as the second round of section play continues. Before Penn Manor hosts Hempfield on Wednesday with Section One on the line, a pair of Monday night-ers will help decide three-team races in Sections Two and Three.
Elizabethtown, which fell to Garden Spot 7-3 earlier in the season, hosts the Spartans at 7:00 p.m. Monday, while Donegal travels to take on Manheim Central at 7:30 p.m. to avenge an earlier 4-3 loss, in a game with old-school (er, circa five years ago) context.