When Hannah Yost and Holly Peacock were helping lead Jersey Shore to the 2010 Class AAA state final some of their current teammates were sixth graders looking up at them in awe.
They still look up to them and the other senior players, but they are no longer awed. They are equals now. They are all working together and helping Jersey Shore build on its stellar softball tradition.
It took some time, but veterans and newcomers have started jelling and everything seems back to normal following a 1-3 start. Since then the Bulldogs (9-5) have won eight of their last 10 games, own wins over the HAC-I's first and second-place teams and again look like a serious District 4 Class AAA title contender.
"Some of the girls look up to us and I feel like when we seniors graduate they'll take over," Yost said following a 1-0 win over defending district champion Milton last Tuesday. "They know how we have worked for the last four years and the girls will take care of it."
That really is the essence of Jersey Shore softball. The names change every year, but the results do not. The Bulldogs are one of only two teams that have reached districts every year of the 21st century. It looks like that streak will continue and how is the impressive thing.
Like most teams, Jersey Shore was hamstrung by a lack of outdoor practices because of poor weather during the preseason. The problem was compounded for the Bulldogs, though, since they were trying to break in new starters, including in the pitching circle and behind the plate.
Newcomers were learning on the fly and veterans rapidly had to try meshing with new teammates. Jersey Shore played two of its first four games against league leader Mifflinburg and Milton so the 1-3 start was not shocking. What stood out is that the Bulldogs did not grow discouraged.
As they played together more, they started clicking and won six straight. Jersey Shore beat Mifflinburg 13-3 during that stretch, handing it its only league loss. Last Tuesday, Rebecca Caputo threw a two-hit shutout and the defense played brilliant as the Bulldogs held the district's highest-scoring team to just two hits.
And while Jersey Shore did not show it in that Milton win, it has flourished offensively. The Bulldogs already have exceeded last year's total for extra-base hits and five different players have hit seven home runs. The team hits up and down the lineup and the defense has come together too, showing all those facets in a 15-0 win over Shikellamy last Thursday. Freshman Katie Cowfer threw a no-hitter in that game while Kayla Allen homered and Yost and Peacock tripled.
It was not easy, but the Bulldogs are starting to look like the outstanding Jersey Shore teams that came before them.
"We've got kind of an older group and a young group here and they are finally starting to mesh. That's big when your team starts meshing because you start clicking on all cylinders," Glenn said. "We might have gotten a late start but they're working really hard at practice and working really hard on hitting and coming together."
The best might be yet to come too. Jersey Shore not only is more experienced and cohesive now, but also more confident. Mifflinburg and Milton likely will be seeded No. 1 and No. 2 in some form and the Bulldogs know they can beat them since they have done it. They outslugged Mifflinburg and won a pitcher's duel against Milton.
Whatever it has taken to win those games, Jersey Shore has done it. Young or experienced, nobody is in awe anymore. Instead, these Bulldogs are showing the future players at younger levels how to do things.
"I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season and hopefully our momentum keeps going," Glenn said. "We've proven we can beat Milton, we've proven we can beat Mifflinburg and once you get in the mix for the playoffs it's anyone's game. We still have a long way to go. We have to get in there and keep playing our ball and I think if we keep going like this we'll be peaking at the right time."
STRIKE OUT CANCER: Hughesville and South Williamsport are joining forces today as Hughesville hosts its Coaches vs. Cancer "Strike Out Cancer Game," today. The Hughesville players have been taking pledges and will be taking up a collection at the field. T-shirts will be sold and both a silent auction and a bake sale will be held with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.
The cause is a great one and the game could be entertaining too. South rallied past Hughesville 11-6 earlier this year in a back and forth game that featured 21 hits. The Mounties (10-6) clinched a playoff spot last Saturday, edging Montgomery 6-5 in a thriller.
FEARSOME FRESHMEN: Montgomery (6-8) is one of the area's youngest teams, featuring no seniors and starting four freshmen. Those freshmen keep progressing, though, and have been instrumental to the team's turnaround. Montgomery has won three of its last four games and, with winnable games remaining on its schedule, looks poised to reach the postseason for a 10th straight year. The Raiders had the tying run on third against South in the seventh inning and gave one of the district's most battle-tested Class A teams a serious scare.
First baseman Dionna Satteson, second baseman Lexi McHenry, left fielder Megan Bartlett and catcher Reilly Gearhart all are having nice seasons. Bartlett went 2 for 2 with two RBIs and two runs scored in a 12-1 win over Sullivan County last Thursday while Gearhart had two RBIs, McHenry scored twice and Satteson played good defense. Gearhart came up big against against South too, going 3 for 4.
"A lot of our freshmen have stepped up this year and come ready to play," said junior pitcher Emily Shnyder, who is 13 for 21 in her last six games. "It's awesome that they are playing well."
It obviously is good for this season but also bodes well for the future. Montgomery returns not just those freshmen, but all their players next season. Four players who had to quickly learn on the fly could form part of a nice foundation for the next few years.
"I have been tickled with where they're at," Montgomery coach Craig Weaver said. "I have been really happy with the way they're contributing."
Dr. Masse's top five in softball
1. Williamsport (14-2): The Millionaires captured their second straight eight-team Williamsport Tournament last weekend for the first time since 2007. The Millionaires have played some of their best softball against their strongest competition and a young team is growing up quick.
"I told these girls they're not freshmen and sophomores anymore," Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. "The season is just about through and they've seen just about it all."
Shataya Buxton is one of those freshmen that is flourishing. The freshman catcher/left fielder went 3 for 4 in two games Saturday while reaching base four straight times. She slammed a double to deep left field a week after a long three-run walk-off double gave Williamsport a semifinal win.
"Shataya is coming around," Bower said. "That would be so good to get production out of her in that seven or eight spot, wherever we have her coming up because she is going to have people on base in front of her. She really hit the ball well this weekend."
2. Loyalsock (13-3): The Lancers have a tough week, but it could be a big one if they beat Southern Columbia today and Warrior Run Thursday. Win those two games and Loyalsock captures its first HAC-II championship. Loyalsock has won nine straight league games and outscored Lewisburg and Montoursville, 22-1 last week. Freshmen Kayla Gee and Kendall Watkins have been two of the area's breakthrough players. Gee threw a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 win over Montoursville while Watkins hit her fourth home run against Lewisburg and went 2 for 4 against Montoursville. The Lancers already have won two more games than last year and are fighting for the top seed in District 4 Class AA.
3. Warrior Run (13-2): Pitcher Taylor Parker owns another piece of history. She struck out 13 in a 3-1 win over Southern Columbia Thursday and broke Laura Harris's career strikeout record. Parker now has 796 career strikeouts and has been untouchable in her last four outings, allowing just four hits during that time. She also stifled Southern, a 2012 Class A state finalist, stopping its seven-game winning streak. Katy Swartz has been helping spark the offense and finished a home run shy of the cycle against Southern. Catcher Lynn Vermilya is coming on as well, ripping three hits in a 12-0 win over South Williamsport and then tripling against Southern.
4. Muncy (15-1): The Indians made a big statement last week, capturing their first HAC-III championship since 2009 while also defeating Southern, 4-3. Muncy can cap an undefeated league season if it beats Bloomsburg Thursday, but the Southern non-league win is the one that really stands out since the Tigers have most of their players back from last year's state final run. Pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter leads the area in wins and came up big, throwing a five-hitter. Crystal Good and Caitlin Dauberman have helped spark the offense all year and combined to hit for the cycle. Freshman Tierney Schaible hit well last week, threw well against Millville and played well in the outfield against Southern. Liz Shank is heating up and has three mult-hit performances in her last six games.
5. Milton (11-3): The Black Panthers performed well at the Williamsport Tournament, going 2-1 and beating Lower Dauphin Friday night. Pitcher Taylor Batman is getting better every time out and threw a gem in that 2-1 win. Shortstop Kiah Brink is good defensively and finished a single shy of hitting for the cycle in Saturday's 8-1 win over Montoursville. Milton needs to beat Mifflinburg Thursday if it hopes to earn at least a share of the HAC-I championship.
Player of the week
Alexis Bower, Williamsport: The senior takes the honor for a second straight week after going 4-0, throwing two no-hitters, combining with her sister on a perfect game and allowing just three hits and no runs in 24 innings. She also struck out 46. Oh yeah, Bower also was an offensive force, going 8 for 11 with three home runs and seven RBIs at the Williamsport Tournament.
Game of the week
Loyalsock at Warrior Run: Depending on how today's games pan out Thursday's game could be for the outright HAC-II championship or Warrior Run could be playing for a share of the title. Loyalsock handed Warrior Run its first loss a few weeks ago and these games almost always are exciting. Both were one-run contests last year.