Many think that because all-state pitcher Alexis Bower returned this season, Williamsport should steamroll the opposition.
As outstanding as Bower is, though, softball is a team sport and especially at the Quad A level, a team is not going to go far unless it is exactly that. So while Bower provided an excellent foundation to build around entering the season, a huge question mark surrounded replacing six full-time starters from last year's state quarterfinalist.
Williamsport is starting three freshmen, including in the middle infield with Mikayla Bower at shortstop and Tiana McCormick at second base. But while many of the faces are new, the results are the same. Williamsport is 6-0 and has outscored its opponents, 33-6. The Millionaires also are 4-0 in the Central Penn League and will guarantee themselves one of District 2-4's top two seeds if they win their final two league games.
"Last year, losing in the states was really hard, but we knew coming back we'd have a really strong team," said Bower. "Coming out with five wins is a big thing for us."
While Bower has been dominant, she also has been backed by a strong defense. The Millionaires are playing fundamentally-sound softball and the infield has especially been solid. McCormick and Bower look like they could be two of the area's best middle infielders the next few years and reliable third baseman Brooke Pompeo makes it tough to get the ball through, while Samantha Fischer is doing well at first base.
Center fielder Dominique Thomas is one of the fastest players around and covers a lot of ground, while left fielder Dru Heller is making the most of her time to shine and freshman Kaitlin Caringi is adapting well to right field in her first varsity season. Catcher Heather Inners also has made some nice plays and throws.
"We had a good ending last year with our run in the playoffs and we want to build off that and do it again this year," said Thomas, who also is one of several players hitting well. "We're getting hits when we need them and waiting for our turn to drive it and we help each other out a lot."
An early-season bonus has been building big early leads against teams like Hollidaysburg, Punxsutawney and Central Mountain. That has allowed coach Quint Bower to work with his daughter on different pitches to add to her repertoire. Regular-season wins are nice but after last year what Williamsport craves the most is postseason success.
"The nice thing about some of these games is I can work on pitching because I'm throwing pitches that I normally wouldn't call in a one-run game or a tie game but we know what works and doesn't work," Quint Bower said. "We have the liberty of being able to do that. You just can't duplicate that on the sideline and you can't duplicate that in practice, so we're trying to figure out what works and doesn't work."
This might be a new-look team but the expectations have not changed. The way last season progressed, when Williamsport won 13 of its last 14 games, neither have the results.
TURNING THE CORNER: Montgomery has followed an 0-3 start by winning five straight and moving two games above .500. The Red Raiders have won four of those games via the mercy rule and sophomore pitcher Emily Shnyder has allowed only three runs during that span. Montgomery has two tests this week against St. John Neumann (4-3) and Muncy (5-1) but is rounding into form after opening the season after playing three teams who are a combined 18-2.
Rebecca Hite is having a strong season at the plate and went 4 for 4 in Friday's win at Millville while sophomore shortstop Kaylie Harer had a career-high six RBI. Six players produced multi-hit performances last week and if Montgomery wins both games this week, it will start re-asserting itself on the District 4 Class A level.
EXTRA BASES: Alana Androvette has been a big key to St. John Neumann's success the past two seasons. She helps spark the offense and went 3 for 5 in wins over Benton and Sullivan County while also homering and helping Neumann (4-3) move above .500. ... Muncy sophomore Amanda Kustanbauter pitched a good game against undefeated Southern Columbia last Friday despite being hit on her throwing thumb by a first-inning pitch. Kustanbauter allowed only two earned runs in six innings while striking out seven against a hard-hitting team that features one of the district's top offenses. ... Liberty (2-1) always has been a Class A program but has moved up to Class AA this spring since players from there, Mansfield and North Penn all are playing on the same team.
DR. MASSE'S TOP FIVE
1. Williamsport (6-0): The Millionaires are still waiting for their offensive breakout, but the potential is there. It started showing Saturday as Fischer went 4 for 4 and Mikayla Bower added two hits. If the offense does start consistently producing runs, Williamsport becomes much more dangerous. Bower and Thomas form a potent combination hitting in the middle of the lineup.
"Going down through the lineup I feel confident in every one of those girls, especially Dom right after me," Bower said. "She's a really strong girl."
2. Jersey Shore (6-0): Not even the 2010 Bulldogs, who reached the Class AAA state championship, have started as strong as this year's team. The two-time defending league and district champions have won all but two of their games in convincing fashion and the offense started establishing itself last week. Kierstin Kemmerer hit two home runs against Shikellamy, while Hannah Yost had five hits in two wins over the Braves and Shamokin. Jersey Shore has 33 hits in its last three games and is hitting well throughout the lineup.
3. Warrior Run (6-0): It is not just that the Defenders are off to the best start in program history, it is how they have journeyed there that is impressive. Warrior Run has beaten five likely playoff qualifiers, including District 4 Class AA heavyweights Central Columbia and Mifflinburg and is the only undefeated team in remaining in the HAC-II. Warrior Run performed well under pressure in close wins over Danville and Mifflinburg last week and pitcher Taylor Parker drilled a walk-off single against Mifflinburg. Parker has topped 10 strikeouts in all six games and the junior has 464 career strikeouts.
4. South Williamsport (5-2): The Mounties look poised to return to the playoffs after last year's hiatus and have won five of their last six games. South has been especially tough in one-run games, winning all three. South has won by scoring lots of runs or by receiving clutch pitching from Casey Brewer and is gaining confidence it can win under any circumstance. Jourdan Boehmer missed most of spring practices due to injury but the lead-off hitter is heating up and went 3 for 6 with three RBI in her last two games. Senior first baseman Rebecca Knee also is playing well and had five hits in those victories.
5. Muncy (6-1): The Indians bounced back from their first loss and slammed 2011 District 4 Class AA playoff qualifier CMVT, 15-9. Caitlin Dauberman continued her hot streak and went 4 for 4 a day after doubling against Southern. Catcher Crystal Good is one of the area's premier sophomores and had a big week, going 8 for 10 with two triples and two home runs, both which came against CMVT. Good is providing good protection for Hannah Cole in the middle of Muncy's lineup and making it hard to pitch around the St. Francis-bound center fielder.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK--Emily Shnyder, Montgomery: In addition to allowing only one hit in two shutouts, Shnyder also was an offensive force. The sophomore went 6 for 8 in those wins while driving in five runs against Sullivan County.
GAME OF THE WEEK--Warrior Run at Loyalsock: today's showdown at Short Park gives Warrior Run a chance to all but put away Loyalsock in the HAC-II title chase. The surprisingly struggling Lancers (3-4) desperately need a win to turn their season around and also can pull back within a game of first place in the HAC-II. These rivals split two close games last year and today's game should be another good one.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com