Miller off to big start with Milton

Mackenna Miller simply shook her head after hearing the question.

Others might have shaken their heads if they heard her answer.

No, Miller did not put in extra hitting time during the offseason. A three-sport athlete who also plays soccer and basketball at Milton, Miller did not have much time to get in extra swings.

Opponents can hardly tell. The senior catcher has opened her final scholastic season on an offensive rampage. Miller has 12 hits in her first five games and is hitting .764. The four-year starter has been so strong that when she went 2 for 5 in Thursday’s win over Selinsgrove, that dropped her average .153 points.

“I feel good,” Miller said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this many hits at the beginning of the season. I like it and just try to keep doing it.”

Miller has been an outstanding player the last three seasons but has taken things to another level early this year. She might be the early-season MVP on an undefeated team that has pounded its opponents by a 59-4 margin. Hitting lead-off for the first time, Miller has produced five straight multi-hit games, five extra-base hits, a home run and three games in which she has not been retired.

Catchers often are not among the team’s fastest players, but Miller is. She can fly around the bases and she is as likely to beat out an infield single or drop a bunt single as she is to drive one deep.

“I like being at the top of the lineup,” Miller said after going 2 for 2 and scoring three runs in a big 6-2 win over defending District 4 Class AAA champion Jersey Shore. “I think it gets everything started.”

“Mackenna is just phenomenal. If that isn’t a first team all-state player I’ve never seen one,” Milton coach Bill Keefer said. “She’s awesome. She had one out all year (in her first four games). If that’s not player of the year caliber I don’t know what is.”

And Keefer is not just talking about hitting. Miller does it all. She is a five-tool player who is as smart as she is talented. She calls all the pitches and has helped pitcher Taylor Batman start 5-0 while allowing just 18 hits in 28 innings. Miller also possesses a strong arm and makes it hard for opponents to steal or take an extra base.

Miller might not be the loudest person but she is a leader. She is catalyst on an explosive team that is seeking its sixth district championship since 2006. It is doubtful Miller stays this hot all season. Milton players and coaches know this but they are not complaining.

They are just happy she is on the team.

“She takes the running game away from the other team. She takes a way a lot of the bunting game away from the other team, she calls all the pitches and she makes it work,” Keefer said. “She moves it in and out and calls them all. She is what you want in a player.”

STELLAR STETTS: Jersey Shore junior Brianna Stetts also is off to a great start, helping Jersey Shore go 4-1. The pitcher/right fielder has increased the team’s pitching and hitting depth and also is shining defensively.

Stetts has hit safely in all five games and has three multi-hit games, including two in which she had three. She went 3 for 4 in Thursday’s 12-1 win over Shikellamy and opened the season by going 5 for 6 with seven RBIs in wins over Midd-West and Mifflinburg.

Stetts also is making a nice impact in the circle. She is 3-0 and threw a five-inning no-hitter against Shikellamy. Stetts has held opponents to eight hits in 17 innings and was terrific in right field against Milton, throwing out a runner at first and another at home.

MARVELOUS MUSSARE: Those who have watched South Williamsport softball play the last few seasons know that second baseman Sabrina Mussare plays strong defense. She helps anchor the right side of South’s infield and already this season has made several impressive plays.

But Mussare is not a one-dimensional player. The senior also can do offensive damage. The three-year starter hit a lead-off single and ignited a two-run seventh-inning rally Saturday as South nearly overcame a three-run deficit in a 5-4 loss at Muncy. Hitting No. 8, Mussare provides production at the bottom of the lineup and gives South (3-2) some balance.

Mussare opened her season by going 2 for 3 with two RBIs and two runs in a win at Canton. She was key to South’s late-season surge last year and will be instrumental to the team’s success as this season progresses.

“Sabrina doesn’t get a whole lot of recognition for her offensive skills but the girl never strikes out. She bunts well and she comes through in the clutch a lot when it counts,” South coach Scott Stugart said. “That’s why she is a captain. She is such a great leader on this team. We’re so glad to have her.”

EXTRA BASES: Former South catcher Sarah March made a huge impact in her second collegiate start last Wednesday. The 2013 all-state selection homered and threw out two runners as Division I Niagara defeated rival Buffalo … Williamsport has been one of the area’s most hard-luck teams thus far. The Millionaires (0-4) have lost all four games by a run, including three in extra innings. The Millionaires watched a one-run lead turn into a 2-1 loss Saturday at Conwell Egan before scoring three seventh-inning runs only to lose in eight innings to Archbishop Ryan, 6-5. Mikayla Bower threw a five-hitter in the first game and went 3 for 4 in the second … Montgomery has reversed last year’s start and is 3-0, scoring 40 runs in its first three games. Colby Heintzelman hit a go-ahead double in a 7-3 win over Benton and the Raiders delivered 14 hits in a 13-6 win over Sullivan County. Reilly Gearhart, Kaylie Harer and Rachel Hite all have at least two hits in all three games.

Dr. Masse’s top five in area softball

(Records through Saturday)

1. Milton (5-0): The Black Panthers are outhitting teams, 60-18 and had 20 hits in Thursday’s 19-2 win over Selinsgrove. Dani Lincoln went 4 for 4 in that game and Milton mercy-ruled an opponent for a fourth time. Batman is throwing with greater velocity this season and opened her season by throwing 20 1/3 straight scoreless innings.

2. Jersey Shore (4-1): Milton has been the only team thus far to contain an explosive Bulldog offense. In four wins, Jersey Shore has produced 39 runs and 46 hits. Shelbie Wenner is making an impact as a first-time starter and went 3 for 3 against Shikellamy, while Averie Lorson, Erin Engel and Jess Willits each had two hits.

“We have a very strong lineup,” Jersey Shore coach Chris Glenn said. “In fact, I think it’s probably the strongest lineup I’ve ever had as a coach from 1-9, but we have to put hits together and keep getting hits and go up there aggressively instead of taking some real nice pitches.”

3. Wellsboro (4-0): The Green Hornets have a chance to exact some revenge for last year’s heart-breaking district playoff loss when they travel to Towanda Tuesday. Wellsboro, Towanda and Troy all are unbeaten and are fighting for the inaugural NTL-I championship. Wellsboro has produced 28 hits in its last three games and sophomore shortstop Sarah Ingerick has seven during that time. She, Brooke Kohler, Bailey Lehman and Paige Carr delivered multi-hit performances in a 5-1 win over Cowanesque Valley. Combine the offense with Alexa Singer pitching well and Wellsboro looks like a potential District 4 Class AA title contender.

4. Muncy (4-1): Center fielder Haley Gyurina made her first start in that South win Saturday and made an immediate impact. The talented sophomore missed all or most of the first four games after recovering from mono but went 1 for 2 with a RBI double, played good defense and set up a huge insurance run with smart baserunning. Muncy is now at full strength for the first time and also has received a boost with Messiah-bound infielder Natalie Lamoreaux returning from a torn ACL and the addition of former Montgomery standout Emily Shnyder.

“It makes us stronger defensively and offensively,” said Amanda Kustanbauter, who threw six strong innings, went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and made the game-clinching catch Saturday. “It makes the whole team strong.”

5. Loyalsock (3-2): The Lancers came alive offensively last week, scoring 25 runs and delivering 27 hits in wins over Lewisburg and Montoursville. Loyalsock overcame a 2-0 deficit against Montoursville and snapped its three-game winning streak. Kendall Watkins homered in that game and the sophomore has two home runs in her last three games. Pitcher Kayla Gee has been outstanding early this season and went 5 for 8 with four RBIs last week while also winning two games in the circle. She pitched one of her best games against Montoursville, allowing just three hits.

Player of the week

Rachel Hite, Montgomery: The senior outfielder is off to a sensational start and continued her hot hitting last week, going 5 for 8 with four runs and two triples in wins over Benton and Sullivan County. The four-year starter is 8 for 11 thus far and has helped Montgomery average 14 hits in its wins.

Game of the week

Central Columbia at South Williamsport: These long-time rivals have played many outstanding games over the years, including at South last year. The Mounties overcame three two-run deficits in that game, including in the seventh inning, winning a thriller on Kelsey Gantz’s walk-off single. Expect another good one between two district title contenders.