District 4 softball better than its limited PIAA berths

The PIAA does not base allotting state tournament berths based on district strength, instead doing so based on numbers. That must change.

What happened this year is pathetic. It is a joke that District 4 Class AA receives just one berth. It is a bigger joke that this is because traditional pushover District 12 gets two berths. District 12 has never won a state game since being formed in 2006 and has been mercy-ruled four times, including last year.

District 4 is traditionally one of the state’s best and has produced a state semifinalist in all but one season since 2008. Loyalsock won the title that year, Warrior Run reached the final last year and Central Columbia reached the semifinals as a district runner-up in 2010. Oh yeah, Mifflinburg captured the 2004 state championship, runner-up Danville reached the state semifinals and at least one team has won a state game every year in the past decade.

Come on, PIAA look beyond the numbers. Try using common sense.

District 2-4 Class AAAA

(6 teams, champion advances to states)

Williamsport (17-2) is seeking its third straight championship and will host a semifinal against either No. 5 Delaware Valley or No. 4 Scranton. No. 2 Hazleton (14-1) or No. 3 Wallenpaupack (13-2) likely will reach the final. Wallenpaupack is led by pitcher Brittany Guerrieri who is 12-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 83 innings. Hazleton always is dangerous and Williamsport edged it 1-0 in the 2011 semifinals and in last year’s championship.

Williamsport’s lone senior Alexis Bower is having a phenomenal season. She is 16-2 has thrown four no-hitters, topped 200 strikeouts and went through a stretch where she did not allow a run for 51 innings. The defense has played well behind her and if the offense can hit consistently, Williamsport has the potential to do some serious damage. Samantha Fischer and Mikayla Bower have had solid seasons and right fielder Taylor Brooks has come on strong and a team that starts seven freshmen and sophomores has won 12 straight games.

District 4 Class AAA

(6 teams, champion advances)

Milton and Jersey Shore have won every championship since 2006, the Black Panthers taking last year’s. Top-seeded Mifflinburg (17-3) is the favorite this time but Milton and Jersey Shore cannot be counted out.

No. 2 Milton (13-7) has reached the final seven straight seasons and excelled most of the season until hitting a bump and being no-hit twice last week while losing 8-7 to Montoursville after taking a 5-run lead into the seventh inning. During the season’s first half, Milton was the district leader in runs per game and scored at least seven runs in its first nine games. Catcher Mackenna Miller is one of the tournament’s best players.

No. 4 Jersey Shore (12-8) overcame a 1-3 start and is the only team in the field to have wins over both Milton and Mifflinburg. The Bulldogs beat those teams 1-0 and 13-3, respectively the last two times they played. Sophomore pitcher Rebecca Caputo has flourished and threw a two-hit shutout against Milton. Seniors Kayla Allen, Hannah Yost and Holly Peacock are standout four-year starters who played on the 2010 state finalist. They combine with a nice core of first-year starters and have jelled as the season has progressed.

Jersey Shore has won two straight and faces No. 5 Danville (11-9) in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Ironmen, who have a solid offense, played Jersey Shore tough both times and led in the fifth inning of last week’s game before losing 6-3.

Lloyd is the field’s best pitcher and helped Mifflinburg reach the District 4 Class AA final this year. The offense is also solid and Sara Stauffer is one of the tournament’s most dangerous hitters.

No. 6 Shamokin (10-10) will travel about three hours to face Athens Thursday. It has a solid offense but has struggled to keep opposing offenses down at times.

Tournament Sleeper-Athens: The Wildcats (11-6) have surged down the stretch and highlighted their run with an upset over Northeast Bradford. Athens stunned Jersey Shore in last year’s semifinals, ending its two-year title run, and have won six straight.

Player to Watch-Holly Peacock, Jersey Shore: The senior third baseman is an outstanding fielder and hitter and a team leader. She will play at Bloomsburg next year and is trying to help the Bulldogs win their third district title in four years.

Projected Semifinals: Mifflinburg over Jersey Shore

Projected Final: Mifflinburg over Milton

Class AA

(10 teams, champ advances)

The PIAA does not care and somehow does not know, but the tournament is loaded again and whoever survives it has a chance to make a run in states.

Top-seeded Warrior Run (17-3) lost twice to HAC-II champion Loyalsock but is heating up at the right time like it did last year. The Defenders outscored three teams last week, including Milton and HAC-III champion Muncy, 31-2 while delivering 41 hits. The lineup is potent top to bottom and No. 9 hitter Cortney Stahl proved it, homering at Muncy. Reigning Class AA Player of the Year Taylor Parker has thrown 18 career no-hitters, including five this season. She has 211 strikeouts this year and 850 for her career.

Warrior Run hosts the CMVT/Wyalusing winner Thursday. No. 8 Wyalusing 14-6), a 2011 Class A state semifinalist, has become a perennial district title contender and was a win from capturing the NTL-East championship. Freshman pitcher Emily Faulkner has flourished down the stretch. No. 9 CMVT (12-7) is seeking its first playoff win.

No. 4 Southern Columbia (14-6) reached last year’s Class A state final and is playing as well as anyone in the field, winning 10 of its last 12. Most of last year’s starters are back, the offense is tough top to bottom and pitcher Mallory Tomaschick is one of the field’s best all-around players. The Tigers meet No. 5 Lourdes (14-6) in the quarterfinals which is having the best season in program history.

No. 2 Loyalsock (15-5) captured the rugged HAC-II title and swept Warrior Run but also sandwiched that title-clinching win 12 days ago around losses to Southern and Bloomsburg. The Lancers won nine straight league games at one point, impressive in a league that sent five teams to districts. They feature a nice blend of outstanding seniors in catcher Amanda Daneker and second baseman Ashleigh Bair with talented freshmen like pitcher Kayla Gee and third baseman Kendall Watkins. Gee has won 10 games and twice stifled Warrior Run while Allison Czap provides a lot of pop from the clean-up spot and offers protection for three-time all-stater Daneker. Watkins has hit five home runs and Kay Kay Lupo and Ally Kennedy are three-year starters.

Loyalsock faces either No. 10 Towanda (12-7) or No. 7 Wellsboro (13-7) in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Towanda (12-7) always is tough come playoff time and has a strong pitcher in Alaina Wickwire. Wellsboro edged Towanda 1-0 last month as Alexa Singer and Brooke Kohler combined on a 2-hit shutout and Darci Warriner hit a walk-off double.

Wellsboro reached last year’s quarterfinals and has won six of its last seven, blanking NTL-East champion Troy and Coudersport 6-0 and 10-0, last week. The Hornets start mostly freshmen and sophomores although three-year starter Maggie Smith provides good pop.

No. 3 Central Columbia faces Troy in the other quarterfinal. Some thought Central might be rebuilding some this year, but the Blue Jays never have believed in that word. They feature one of the field’s best offenses and have wins over Warrior Run and Loyalsock. They reached at least the state quarterfinals from 2009-11.

No. 6 Troy (13-6) won the NTL-East championship, downing Wyalusing 3-1 last Thursday. That stopped a two-game losing streak and showed that it remains dangerous. Troy upset Warrior Run in the 2011 quarterfinals and reached the final a year after beating Central in the 2010 district championship.

Tournament Sleeper-Wellsboro: Pitcher Brooke Kohler has been outstanding and threw a four-hit shutout against Troy. Watch out for freshman shortstop Sarah Ingerick, a good hitter and fantastic defender with a big arm. Whoever wins will present Loyalsock a challenge.

Best first-round game-Towanda at Wellsboro: Expect another tight one between two solid teams.

Player to Watch-Devin Nicholas: The four-year starting third baseman is a strong defender who also is heating up offensively. Nicholas has five hits in her last two games and had a big postseason last year. A quality No. 2 hitter, Nicholas can do a lot of things offensively.

Projected first-round winners: Wyalusing, Towanda.

Projected Semifinals: Southern over Warrior Run; Central over Loyalsock

Projected Final: Central over Southern

Class A

(7 teams, finalists advance)

The last time Muncy went 17-3 and captured the HAC-III championship was 2009 and it won the district title that year. Here’s thinking the Indians want history to repeat itself. Ironically, Muncy, despite having the top seed, is an underdog with defending champion Northeast Bradford, battle-tested South Williamsport and surging Bloomsburg all in this strong field.

Muncy won its first 11 league games, swept No. 5 Benton and No. 6 Montgomery and split with No. 4 Bloomsburg. It is the only team to beat Southern over the last three weeks. The Indians have a lot of young players but the top four players in the lineup all started on last year’s team that was an out from beating state finalist Southern in the district semifinals. Pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter has been outstanding, winning 16 games and throwing eight shutouts. Catcher Crystal Good and third baseman Caitlin Dauberman have each had big offensive seasons while helping anchor the defense and freshman Haley Gyurina is a budding star in center field.

Muncy plays either Benton or Bloomsburg in the semifinals. Benton (12-8) is making its first playoff appearance in more than a decade and has a good pitcher in Elisabeth Schaefer who has been key to a big turnaround. Bloomsburg (12-8) has won five of its last seven games and handed Muncy its lone league loss a few weeks ago. The Panthers split with quarterfinal opponent Benton and showed how dangerous they are last Wednesday when they stunned Loyalsock, 6-4.

No. 2 Northeast Bradford (16-4) has reached five straight district finals and reached last year’s state quarterfinals. Pitcher Chelsie Souto is one of the field’s best and has lots of big-game experience. The defending champions also are battle-tested after playing against mostly Class AA and AAA playoff teams in the NTL-East.

NEB plays No. 7 Cowanesque Valley in Thursday’s quarterfinals. CV showcased its credentials when it beat Wellsboro 6-5 last month. Jessi Prutsman is a standout hitter who hit five home runs during a five-game stretch late this season.

No. 3 South Williamsport (14-6) is playing as well as anyone right now, winning six straight games and beating four playoff teams during that stretch. The Mounties have scored 72 runs and delivered 83 hits during their winning streak and are receiving production up and down the lineup. The outfield is one of the best around, catcher Sarah March has had a huge year and freshman pitcher Anna Steer flourished while pitching in the rugged HAC-II, winning 11 games. South’s tough schedule could serve it well in the postseason.

No. 6 Montgomery (11-9) is making its 10th straight playoff appearance, a claim no other District 4 Class A team can make. The Red Raiders are one of the tournament’s youngest teams, starting four freshmen, but made a huge turnaround after starting 3-7. Montgomery came storming back with big wins over Bloomsburg and Benton and has received big lifts from three-year starters Emily Shnyder and Kaylie Harer. Freshmen Dionna Satteson, Megan Bartlett, Reilly Gearhart and Lexi McHenry also came up big.

Tournament Sleeper-Montgomery: The Raiders played South and Muncy tough and beat Benton and Bloomsburg. They came together after a rough start and do the little things right. It would be foolish to ever count out a Craig Weaver-coached team.

Player to Watch-Rachel Floyd, South: The senior center fielder is one of the best around and also is a quality team leader. Floyd is a catalyst from her lead-off position who hits the ball hard and also is an excellent bunter who makes things happen on the bases.

Best Quarterfinal-Montgomery at South: If Thursday’s game is like the one these two played a few weeks ago, fans are in for a treat. South edged Montgomery, 6-5 in a back and forth game and Steer induced a game-ending groundout with the tying run on third.

Projected Semifinals: Bloomsburg over Muncy; NEB over South

Projected Final: NEB over Bloomsburg

Dr. Masse’s Top Five

1. Williamsport (17-2); 2. Loyalsock (15-5); 3. Warrior Run (17-3); 4. South Williamsport (14-6); 5. Muncy (17-3)

Player of the Week

Taylor Parker, Warrior Run: She threw a no-hitter against Milton, a one-hitter against Muncy and a two-hitter against Selinsgrove while striking out 40. Oh yeah, she can hit too. Parker went 8 for 11 with a home run, four doubles, six RBIs and eight runs.