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Central York sets its sights on states

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Last season, it was rare for the Central York softball team to be challenged, let alone lose a game.

The Panthers won their first 17 contests on their way to a league title and 21-2 record. Eleven of their wins came by at least nine runs.

So far this spring, things have been a little more challenging for the defending YAIAA champs.

After starting 4-0, the Panthers dropped a 5-4 contest to Red Lion on Monday, a stunner considering the Lions didn't win a game in 2016. On Wednesday, Central was locked in a tight battle with New Oxford for six innings before breaking out with seven runs in the seventh to win, 8-1.

But while the Panthers admit they're still figuring some things out, the expectations for the program haven't changed. In fact, they've increased. After losing in the first round of districts the past two seasons, Central is determined to go a lot further in 2017.

"Our cheer that we break out every day is 'banner,'" junior pitcher and first baseman Courtney Coppersmith said. "We want to get all the way to the state championship game and get that banner in the gym."

Accomplishing that goal won't be easy. Even with the PIAA expanding classifications this season, Central is a Class 6A school and will have to compete with traditional powers like Penn Manor and Chambersburg at the district level. But with returning players like Coppersmith (0.67 ERA, .381 batting average last season), shortstop Erin Cabry (.481 average) and Cameryn Rothrock (.471 average), the Panthers have plenty of talent.

One change the team has undergone is at head coach, where former junior varsity coach K.J. Livingston has taken the top job. Former coach Shane Walker stepped down this past summer to take an assistant job at York College.

While Livingston hasn't changed much about the program, she stands out for her low-key demeanor. The Panthers are known for the colorful chants they shout throughout games, but Livingston spent most of Wednesday's contest with the same calm expression on her face.

"We're trying to let the players play their game and not micromanage and let them have fun," Livingston said. "It's actually been pretty smooth. (Assistant coach) Dave Eckman has been integral in getting this continued. I'm just letting the girls do what they do."

Livingston admitted the loss to Red Lion was frustrating, but said she'd rather the team get those results out of the way now. The Panthers only graduated three seniors last season, but are still looking for players to step up as leaders.

Still, Central seems to have found its ace pitcher, and that can go a long way in softball. After pitching in relief last season behind Player of the Year Rachel Butler, Coppersmith has been off to a strong start. Against the Colonials on Wednesday, she struck out nine batters and gave up three hits in a complete-game performance.

"I have a lot of pressure I put on myself, but I just try to do what I can," Coppersmith said. "As a pitcher you've got to pitch through tough games because you're going to see them come districts. You're going to see better players and better bats."

Before the Panthers can start thinking about the district and state playoffs, they'll have to get through YAIAA Division I. While they're still in good shape, they could be challenged by Dallastown (2-2), Spring Grove (3-1) and New Oxford (4-1).

Despite getting outclassed at the end of Wednesday game, the Colonials feel they're on the upswing after going 6-14 a year ago. Junior pitcher Alanna Molz and senior shortstop Sierra Megonnell give the team a solid foundation.

"We played our worst game against our best opponent so far," New Oxford coach Vince Hall said. "I think we have a shot (at the division title)."