Making the play was difficult. South Williamsport's Lizz Cummings just made it look easy.
Hughesville second baseman Brianna Stroup hit a long drive down the right-field line and appeared to have a sure two-run double last Tuesday. Cummings, though, immediately tracked the ball upon impact, made a great jump, took an even better angle and caught the ball while running backward. Instead of Hughesville pulling within 3-2 and having the tying run at second, the sophomore ended the inning and altered the game's complexion.
South scored nine runs in the top half of the next inning and won 12-0. The play gets lost in the boxscore, but had Cummings not made it everything might have been different.
"The first thing I said when we got into the dugout was thanks for saving us two runs," South catcher Sarah March said. "Lizz and all the outfielders have been playing really well."
Cummings has been a revelation in right field. Getting better every game while covering ample ground, she has become a weapon. It has been an impressive run for a girl who did not play any softball until reaching high school last year.
Coach Scott Stugart happened to be in the right place at the right time the winter of Cummings' freshman year, watching his daughter Alana play basketball. Cummings was a teammate and Stugart was struck by her size, speed and talent. He envisioned her doing big things as a softball player and now that vision has become reality.
"I saw her playing basketball and was thinking, 'we should talk to this girl about trying to play softball,'" Stugart said. "She is still really learning the game but has come a long way and is really doing a nice job."
Early this season, Cummings likely would not have made the play she did against Hughesville. The more experience she gets, though, the more confident and more skilled she becomes. She also made a huge catch in an early-season win over Muncy as South handed the Indians their only loss.
Cummings has a good arm too and is quickly becoming the whole package in right field. She also is starting to provide some pop at the plate. She went 2 for 4 against Hughesville with two RBIs and has the potential to blossom into one of the area's premier players the next two years if the keeps progressing.
"Early in the season I don't think she was that confident at the plate, but she's getting more confident and has been breaking out," Stugart said. "She has such great instincts and so much talent and it's starting to show."
Cummings is just part of a talented South outfield that is among the area's best. Center fielder Rachel Floyd has been a rock and both Jourdan Boehmer and Roxie Keller have made big plays in left field. All the outfielders are quick and adept at either getting to balls hit in the air or tracking hits down and preventing runners from taking extra bases.
The Mounties (12-6) are having their best season in three years. They have won some close games and while the outfield making those plays may look like a small thing it has added up to a big season.
"All the outfielders we have used have done a really good job," March said. "You don't have that nervous feeling when the ball is hit out to them. You feel good because you know they are going to make a good play and that helps a lot."
NOT SETTLING: Loyalsock captured its first HAC-II championship Thursday, defeating Warrior Run 3-1 in a winner-take-all game. The championship was nice, but coach Tom O'Malley likes the way his team works even more. The team's quest for constant improvement is something that can carry it on and off the field.
"You can't settle for mediocrity and they continue to work and continue to want to get better," O'Malley said. "They all have good work ethics and I'm happy that there is no complacency. It is a close-knit group and they all get along and come to work every day."
That has included showing up for 6:30 a.m. hitting sessions if practice was wiped away by rain the previous day and working on their own when nobody else is watching. The first payoff is winning the HAC-II title and Loyalsock (15-4) hopes there is more to come. It says a lot about the team's long-term goals that upon beating last year's Class AA state finalist and winning that league championship, nobody celebrated.
Loyalsock players simply walked off the field like they had won any other game. It was business as usual and there was still more work to do. But that does not mean they are not happy about winning a championship in one of the state's toughest leagues.
"They earned this with hard work all year," O'Malley said. "One of their goals was to compete for a league championship and it was nice to see it become reality."
"I was confident we could do it," third baseman Kendall Watkins said. "As a freshman starting out, it's pretty cool."
EXTRA BASES: Jersey Shore clinched another playoff berth last week, pounding Shamokin, 11-4. The Bulldogs and Loyalsock are the only District 4 teams that have reached districts each year of the 21st century. Jersey Shore (10-7) has rallied from a 1-3 start and is the last HAC-I team to beat league champion Mifflinburg ... Sullivan County has made some nice strides this season and won two straight for a second time this season last week. The Griffins blanked Millville 16-0 in three innings as Alyssa Blasi threw her first no-hitter. Brianna Baumunk had two hits and two RBIs while Shelby Zeller doubled, drove in four runs and scored three more ... Hughesville catcher Kaitlyn LaForme has played well down the stretch and turned a nice double play against South, catching a foul while running backward before throwing to first to get the lead runner.
Dr. Masse's top five in softball
1. Williamsport (15-2): The Millionaires won their third straight Central Penn League championship Monday against St. Mary's. Doing so gives them one of the top two seeds in the District 2-4 Class AAAA playoffs, meaning a semifinal would be played at Elm Park instead of in District 2. Williamsport has won 10 straight and defeated Central Mountain 4-2 in its lone game last week. Sophomore right fielder Taylor Brooks continues to be a weapon and is 5 for 8 in her last two games. The offense has come a long way since the season's start, producing at least eight hits in six of the last seven games.
2. Loyalsock (15-4): First baseman Allison Czap has been a steady producer the past two seasons, but has become a force this season. The junior has been one of the team's most consistent hitters and run producers and delivered the decisive blow against Warrior Run. Czap crushed a two-out, two-run third-inning home run, putting Loyalsock ahead to stay. Several teams have tried pitching around all-state catcher Amanda Daneker this season, but the strategy has often backfired with Czap hitting behind her.
"That was a big hit and Allison has done a great job all year and has a lot of big hits," O'Malley said. "I think their game plan was to take Amanda out of the game and she rose to the occasion. That was a big momentum change."
3. Warrior Run (14-3): Despite losing to Loyalsock, the Defenders still have a shot at earning the district's top seed. If Warrior Run defeats Selinsgrove, Milton and Muncy it likely will finish with the best record. As loaded as District 4 is, though, seedings really do not matter at this point. Center fielder Gabby Shrawder had a big week for the Defenders, going 6 for 7 with three doubles. The senior has been one of the area's best hitters this season and had two doubles, along with a triple, in a 12-0 win over Montoursville. Taylor Parker threw her 16th career no-hitter in that game and now has 810 career strikeouts.
4. South Williamsport (12-6): The Mounties recorded one of their biggest wins over the past three seasons Thursday, rallying past Central Columbia and winning 8-7 on Kelsey Gantz's walk-off hit. South overcame three two-run deficits and a one-run seventh-inning deficit against a team that has played in three of the last four district finals and state quarterfinals and that has wins over Warrior Run, Loyalsock and Southern Columbia. South has won four straight, scoring 53 runs and delivering 55 hits during that stretch with everyone in the lineup coming through at some point. March was 6 for 8 in last week's wins while Kalynn Wheeland went 3 for 4 with a home run and four RBIs as South beat Central for the first time since 2009.
5. Muncy (15-2): Bloomsburg snapped Muncy's 10-game winning streak last Thursday, denying it a perfect HAC-III season while winning 6-2. The Indians, though, won their first league title since 2009 with ease and still will be District 4 Class A's top seed if they win their three games this week. Muncy is playoff-bound for a fifth straight year and has reached at least the semifinals in three of the last four seasons. Pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter is tied for the area lead in wins and has thrown nine shutouts.
Player of the week
Kelsey Gantz, South Williamsport: The sophomore third baseman came up big in both South wins, going 5 for 7 with two doubles. She has become a consistent force in the middle of South's lineup and delivered the walk-off hit against Central as the Mounties earned a big statement win.
Game of the week
Wellsboro at South Williamsport: Thursday's game is a rematch of last year's thrilling District 4 Class AA first-round game in which Wellsboro turned a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh into a dramatic 6-5 win. The Green Hornets have a strong core, plus several promising freshmen this year but do not have many marquee wins. They will be eager to change that Thursday.