Improved offense has Spring Grove in contention
It wasn't long ago that runs were hard to come by for the Spring Grove softball team.
The Rockets were inconsistent offensively last season, after losing current St. Francis University star Hayley Norton to graduation following the 2015 campaign. While Spring Grove improved as the spring went along, the team scored three runs or fewer 10 times and finished 8-12 to miss the District 3 playoffs.
But this year, things have been looking up.
With the regular season halfway over, Spring Grove is 7-2 and tied with Central York for first place in YAIAA Division I. The Rockets have continued to improve at the plate, batting just under .330 as a team and averaging about eight runs in their seven wins. Last season, they ended up hitting .295 as a club.
Has anything changed about the players' approach this season?
"It's the same old," Spring Grove coach Mark Hull said. "We did the same things that we did last year, and the year before. I just think the girls — we're still a young team — but we're more knowledgeable and experienced."
While the Rockets have just two seniors on the roster, they also have six returning starters. That includes the first four batters in their lineup: junior Briana Dicandeloro (.355 average), sophomore Bryn Sporer (.379), senior Julia Wivell (.333) and senior Caraline Cornman (.393).
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Those players have led a lineup that has progressed as it has gotten more reps over the past two seasons. In addition to hitting for a high batting average, the Rockets can also hit for power. They've hit six home runs in the first nine games, with Wivell, Cornman and Sporer each hitting two.
"Just our team chemistry and our confidence has been a lot better," Wivell said. "Starting off strong, the momentum has really helped us. I knew we were going to be a strong team coming into the season, but I'm definitely happy and surprised with how we've been playing."
Still, the Rockets know there is plenty of room for improvement. After scoring at least nine runs in five of its first six games, Spring Grove has cooled off a little over the past two weeks. The Rockets scored just one run in a win over New Oxford, three in a loss to Central York and five in a win over West York on Wednesday.
While those games came against some of the best pitchers in the league, — namely New Oxford's Alanna Molz and Central York's Courtney Coppersmith — Hull knows the Rockets will need to make some adjustments if they're going to continue to be successful.
"Earlier in the season we were focusing on base hits, now we struggled against Central and New Oxford with good pitching, we're kind of mixed up a little bit," Hull said. "We're not sure how to handle a pitcher that has different speeds. I think we need to adjust, and I think some girls are adjusting."
Make no mistake, Spring Grove has high expectations this season. With Wivell and sophomore Hailey Kessinger proving to be a solid pitching duo, the Rockets think they have a team that can win Division I and go on a run at districts. To accomplish that first goal, they'll likely have to beat defending league champion Central York when the two teams play at Spring Grove on May 5.
"If we want to make it to districts, even after winning a game (over West York) we need to work hard," Kessinger said. "The close games improves our focus really good and makes us want to hit even more."