Millionaire freshmen make impact

Williamsport left fielder McKenzie Tebbs has many games to play the next four seasons and many goals she is working toward.

Just one game into her scholastic career, however, the freshman can scratch off one accomplishment. Tebbs belted a walk-off single Tuesday at Elm Park as the young Millionaires edged Hollidaysburg, 3-2, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to do so. Tebbs was one of four freshmen making her first start and that quartet grew up quick as the game progressed.

“I wasn’t expecting that I would come into this game and be batting in the seventh inning with two outs and get the game-winning hit,” Tebbs said. “I didn’t expect that at all, but you just have to do what you have to do sometimes.”

Tebbs, center fielder Chloe Jennings, designated hitter Kaliyah Moore and catcher Shataya Buxton all entered Tuesday’s game nervous. It is a huge jump from junior high to Class AAAA softball. Early on the nerves were obvious, but all four settled down and made a positive impact.

Tebbs went 3 for 4, twice dropping perfect bunts before delivering the game-winning hit on a drive to right-center field. Jennings patrolled center field well, Moore hit lead-off and belted a double. Buxton made a big play in the second inning, throwing out a runner trying to steal third while squashing a rally and preserving a scoreless game.

The schedule is tough and challenges will increase but all four passed their first test.

“We all are eager,” Tebbs said. “We all talk and we just all want to do our best.”

“They’re young, but they’re very talented,” Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. “Right now, as much as going out and teaching the fundamentals, it’s a lot of psychological stuff, keeping them up and letting them know. To win like that was big. I was very happy.”

It was no accident that all four freshmen made key contributions. It was the result of old-fashioned work. They were four of 20 players who put in dedicated offseason work from November through the start of preseason practice.

All four know the expectations surrounding the program and all four want to help it build on its winning tradition. The Millionaires have won two straight district championships and are hoping to make a state tournament run this season. As good as winning senior pitcher Alexis Bower (15 strikeouts, 3 for 3) is, those four freshmen are instrumental to the team’s success.

That is why winning the way Williamsport did yesterday might be bigger than the win itself. All four were challenged and four delivered. None of the three freshmen who batted struck out and all four look like versatile players who can hurt opponents in different ways. Now they know they can come through under pressure and that means just as much as their skills do.

“I have to put trust in these freshmen players but I don’t want to give them too much reign early and have them go out and lose their confidence,” Quint Bower said. “That’s the biggest thing. If they’re confident going to play well.”

They should be plenty confident after yesterday’s comeback. It also helps that the freshmen have four sophomore starters who know exactly what they are going through. Sophomores Kaitlin Caringi, Tiana McCormick, Mikayla Bower and Taylor Brooks all started last year and all four helped Williamsport repeat as district champions while increasing the team’s win total.

“They’ve brought us in and accepted us,” Tebbs said. “Now that we’re starting with them they’ve learned to help us. They are helping us with what we need to get done on the field.”

Now, those seven players create a foundation for one of the state’s youngest teams. The goal now is to show that grades and ages do not matter. They are just numbers.

The results are what matters. And these young players are off to a nice start.

“It’s big. It showed that we have a lot of heart,” Tebbs said. “To see that we can all come together and work as a team like we do it’s awesome.”