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Despite changing head coaches and losing the league's player of the year last season, Central York remains a title contender. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com

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In some ways, it started as a year of big losses for Central York softball.

Central York lost its successful head coach after last season, with Shane Walker stepping down so he could focus on an assistant coaching position at York College. His teams went 60-8 during his three years.

The Panthers also bid adieu to last season's GameTimePA Player of the Year, with pitcher Rachel Butler graduating and moving on to play at Washington College in Maryland.

For most programs, those are sizable losses to overcome. And, yet, here we are, a year later, and nothing much has changed.

It's the start of May, and Central York sits atop the YAIAA Division I standings. The two-time defending league champions are still the team to beat. Central's one loss, a 5-4 setback to Red Lion on April 3, is the lone stain on what has otherwise been a perfect start to the season.

"We are still pretty strong," leadoff hitter and shortstop Erin Cabry said. "We were pretty set to go."

Catcher Brianna Dobson, first baseman Brianna Smith, second baseman Lorna Colberg, shortstop Cabry and third baseman Cameryn Rothrock returned to keep the entire infield from a year ago intact.

Pitcher Courtney Coppersmith stepped up from the No. 2 slot, and she displayed early on she can dominate in the big games.

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Central dispatched the two teams sitting near the top of the division with a five-inning, runaway victory against Dallastown and a first-inning offensive outburst to knock off previously unbeaten Spring Grove in April.

Now comes the pressure-cooker part of the schedule: On Friday, Central faces Spring Grove, which is tied with the Panthers in first place. Central turns around and plays third-place Dallastown on Monday.

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How does Central York keep doing it, year after year?

For one, nobody is a stranger.

"We all knew each other growing up," Rothrock said. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses."

And they keep trying to improve.

"Our at-bats, they're better this year," Cabry said. "We're not just hitting in the first inning. We're hitting in every situation that comes upon us."

The 21-win club from a year ago pounded opponents into submission. They would hang a big number on the scoreboard in the first inning. This year, Cabry said, the team has spread out its offense. That was evident when Spring Grove cut into Central's lead only to watch the Panthers respond with some insurance runs.

Another part of the reason for Central's success is the continuity in the program, which might sound odd at first. After all, there have been significant losses in leadership.

But none of the players view first-year head coach K.J. Livingston as an outsider.

"It's not like she's someone who is completely new," Central York pitcher Courtney Coppersmith said. "She was our JV coach."

Livingston has experienced the four-year arc of her seniors, meeting many of them as freshman and watching them improve each year.

Livingston credits Central's winning tradition to the coaches who came before her. She notes Central's successful feeder program. She also credits the players' and their families' willingness to play softball in the offseason, "and year-round if they can."

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She has a roster filled with players focused on the sport.

Consider just cracking the lineup at Central can be difficult. In prior years Livingston knows junior varsity players have questioned why they aren't playing varsity. Livingston understands the issue. At other schools around the region, those players might be good enough to play varsity.

"Well, not at Central," Livingston said.

Rothrock looked back at her sophomore season last year: "Being the young one, I was really excited just to be able to just help the team."

Multiple teams, multiple coaches and multiple points of view can create some headaches, and Central's staff recognizes the fact many of their players have important voices in their lives. And a travel coach or club team coach might do things differently than Central York. But the Panthers try to offer their perspective.

"This is Central's way," Livingston said has been one of her common refrains.

If questioned, Central's staff has years of results to back up their style of play.

Through all this, Livingston noted she will rely on assistant David Eckman, another longtime voice in the program.

"He's been my rock," Livingston said.

He's one more familiar face, one more voice that helped the program overcome some important losses in the last year.

Rothrock noted, the team's mantra has been, "win the at-bat, win the inning." It underlines the importance of concentrating on the moment at hand, concentrating on every pitch.

"We all knew coming into here that we lost Rachel and that was a pretty big loss for us," Rothrock said. "But we know we're a strong team all around."

 

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