SOFTBALL: Hempfield clips Manheim Township, 3-2
Even when the standings say otherwise, every late-season softball contest matters in Section One.
As such, the Hempfield Lady Knights took advantage of their Section One matchup with rival Manheim Township Friday afternoon in Neffsville, defeating the Lady Blue Streaks by a score of 3-2.
The win not only lets Hempfield (13-2 Section One, 15-4 overall) keep pace with Section One front-runner Warwick (14-1, 17-1), which, incidentally, travels to Landisville Monday afternoon for a showdown with the Lady Knights, but also gives Hempfield a vital tune-up as playoff-time approaches.
After surviving Penn Manor's freshman Brittany Hook in 10 innings on Wednesday, Hempfield was well-prepared to face another top pitcher from Section One in Reilly Gearhart of Manheim Township (9-6, 10-7).
"Section One has just been tough," said Hempfield's head coach Brian Lohr. "It's good for us. It's good for Warwick. Township is in districts, Penn Manor is going to be in districts. Us facing pitchers like Reilly, Brittany Hook, (and Warwick's) Amanda Herr, you don't want to (face someone else) because you're not going to be prepared."
Especially when not at full strength. Warwick centerfielder and top-of-the-order speedster Kyra Brakefield did not play Friday after suffering an injury in Thursday's practice, and is uncertain for next week.
"As we talked to the team, this is why we have 12 players on the team," Lohr said. "We don't play with nine. The girls are concerned about her, we're hoping she can come back as quickly as she can. We'll play within ourselves and the players will do what is necessary.
With Marlena Saylor and Sarena Felix splitting time in right field, junior Danielle Steiner moved over to centerfield and into the two-hole in the lineup, contributing a single, run, and sacrifice to aid the Lady Knights offense.
Hempfield scored single runs off Gearhart in the third, fourth and fifth innings. In the third, Madyson Popalis (2-for-4, 2B, RBI) singled in leadoff batter Nikki Rhoads.
In the fourth, catcher Zoey Schneck (2-for-3, RBI) singled home Lexie Unangst, who had doubled, before Hartman brought home Steiner with a double in the fifth.
But Township showed some fight against Hempfield's junior ace Lauren Lichtenwalner (seven strikeouts). A leadoff slap single by nine-hole batter Deja Williams opened the bottom of the fifth, Gearhart following with a fielder's choice.
After Madison Vealey (1-for-4, 2B) reached on an error, leaving runners at the corners, Lohr took the opportunity to test his team in a pressure situation. Vealey made to steal second on a typical "defensive indifference" play, but Schneck threw to second, Vealey called-out when she slipped off the bag. Gearhart scored on the play, but that was no matter to Lohr.
"After the fifth inning, outs are your most precious resource especially when you have more than a one-run lead," he explained. "It wasn't the greatest of Zoey's throws, it worked out in her favor cause the girl hopped up a little bit. The fact is we'll take that chance to get that out."
Gearhart (1-for-4, R, RBI) singled home Kelly Pozda with two outs in the seventh inning to set the final margin.
"I think if (Vealey) would have slid we would have been safe, but at that point in time we really needed runs," said Township head coach Jennifer Breton on the play in the fifth inning.
Township suffered through a disappointing 0-4 week, including a pair of one-run losses to Penn Manor and now Hempfield, plus a nine-inning jaunt with Warwick on Wednesday.
"Frustrating is a good way to (explain the week) because we kind of have it in our grasp," Breton said, "but it's too little too late by the time we finally get our groove."
Thus while Township looks to improve their District 3 resume when they face Cedar Crest and Manheim Central next week, Hempfield will be vying with Warwick for the Section One title before the league tournament begins Saturday, May 9.
Even though Hempfield defeated Warwick earlier in the season, another win on Monday would merely deadlock the standings, setting up a tie-breaker game later in the week.
"If you're tied and you won the head-to-head let's just say I've made my feelings known on the subject," Lohr said. "The girls, hey, we're going to play a game. Keep playing until we win. Putting excuses out there is not something that's going to help them."
Playing out the schedule in Section One, meanwhile, is really all that matters.
Girls High School Softball
L-L Section One
Hempfield 3, Manheim Township 2
HM 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 - 3 9 1
MT 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 - 2 7 1
WP-L. Lichtenwalner; LP-R. Gearhart
K-BB-Lichtenwalner (7IP, 7K, 1BB) and Z. Schneck; Gearhart (7IP, 7K, 0BB, 1HB)
2B-HEM 2 (A. Hartman, Unangst); MT 1 (M. Vealey)