Neumann softball team shows it has a chance

Kaylin Brown never played a softball game before this season. Now she is a starting left fielder.

Welcome to St. John Neumann where athletes like Brown make it possible for the school to field a team each season. Players like Brown, who went 3 for 3 last Tuesday against Montgomery, and so many others also are helping Neumann thrive.

A month before spring sports started, Neumann did not even think it would be able to field a team. Monday, Neumann took the field against Canton 3-0 for the first time in program history. The Knights might not have a lot of experience but they are quick learners and are becoming quite a team.

“I wouldn’t want anything different than what we’ve got right now. I love these girls,” Neumann coach Joe Tedesco said. “It’s fun to coach. It’s a totally different coaching experience than I’ve ever had. These are the sweetest group of girls in the world and I love it here. To do what they’re doing right now is unbelievable.”

Neumann highlighted its record-breaking start with a hard-fought 6-5 win over Montgomery. The Knights collected 10 hits, pitcher Anne Weller threw well and the defense made big plays at key times. Making it even more impressive, first baseman Shayna McNamee did not play and Tedesco had to shuffle his infield around. The team adapted well and showed why it could become a playoff team for just the second time in program history.

“It’s very exciting,” Weller said. “We weren’t sure we would even have a team, but now we’re really jelling well together.”

Neumann opened its season with a 10-2 win over Millville before thumping Benton 9-2 and edging Montgomery a day later. The Knights are tied for first in the Mid-Penn Conference, are hitting up and down the lineup and are growing closer as a team.

Just as important, Neumann is gaining confidence. The Knights delivered 33 hits in those first three wins and whoever Tedesco has used has made an impact. Four players had multi-hit performances against Montgomery with right fielder Brianna Minnier and Brown, both first-time starters, each going 3 for 3. Weller struck out 19 in Neumann’s first two wins and both Minnier and Morgan Kriner made potentially game-saving, brilliant plays against Montgomery.

“In the beginning we were like, ‘oh we’re Neumann, we’re probably not going win any.’ But once we went against Millville we knew we could do this,” Minnier said. “After that, at practices we kept getting better and we became more confident. We proved that by starting 3-0.”

Neumann hopes to keep proving how dangerous it can be as the season progresses. The Knights have never won more than 10 games in a season and have never won a playoff game. But this team really does not care about the past. It is a hard-working group that is blazing its own trail and trying to set its own standard.

Look at how far Neumann already has come. Don’t be it against the Knights only growing stronger from here.

“We’re a team out there and everyone works together,” Weller said. “Everyone is happy and everyone hits well. Everyone is optimistic.”

THE KIDS ARE OK: Montoursville lost several key players from last year’s playoff team, including their pitcher and shortstop. The Warriors have no seniors and just two juniors but are looking good so far. Montoursville (3-2) has three quality wins and shutout both Lewisburg and Jersey Shore last week.

Montoursville blanked Jersey Shore, 5-0 Saturday and beat the 2015-16 District 4 Class AAA champions for the first time since 2005. It was another good stepping stone for a a hard-working, close-knit team that looks like it could surprise many this season.

“They know they can compete,” Montoursville coach Mike Tate said. “You can see the growth and it carries over to practice. It’s an amazing thing to watch happen.”

Freshman pitcher Madi Jean has thrown three shutouts and has not allowed a run in her last 14 innings. She showed excellent poise against Jersey Shore, stranding nine baserunners. Jean has been backed by a determined defense that repeatedly made big plays against Jersey Shore. Infielders Faith Foster and Madison Shaffer made spectacular diving catches Saturday and a young outfield already has made nice strides.

Add in an offense that can produce throughout and Montoursville looks like a sleeper. Montoursville might have off-days but it will not be outworked and that goes a long way.

“They’re not afraid to get dirty,” Tate said. “They will come up fighting for their pitcher any time they need to make that play when it’s needed.”

AROUND THE AREA: Hughesville (3-2) has started the season well and rallied from a six-run deficit to beat Lewisburg, 10-8. The Spartans also erased a six-run deficit the day before against Bloomsburg before losing an 11-9 decision. Hughesville capped its week with a 4-1 win over Southern Columbia. Catcher Emily Watts had a big week, going 6 for 7 with a home run and two doubles … Gabby Vuocolo hit a grand slam and Heather Mayes went 3 for 4 as Jersey Shore beat Shamokin, 8-2 and handed it its first HAC-I loss … North Penn-Liberty is starting to look like a District 4 Class AAA title contender and has won three straight, allowing just three runs in those games. Sophomore pitcher Savannah Doney has limited opponents to three earned runs in four starts … Montgomery senior Hannah Bryson is having another strong season and delivered six hits in three games last week … Muncy dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to South, but bounced back to thump Benton and CMVT. Senior pitcher Kat Ebner allowed just five hits in those games and struck out 11 against CMVT … Wellsboro (3-1) has won two straight and routed Athens and Troy by a 20-3 margin last week. Pitcher Alyssa Yungwirth struck out 23 in those games and has an area-high 46 strikeouts early this season. Sophomore Tiana Lecker went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in a 9-0 win over Troy … Bucktail (3-2) looks like a team that could reach the playoffs for the first time in the 2000s and defeated Montgomery, 9-6. Freshman Myka Poorman threw a six-hitter and has delivered four straight multiple-hit performances.

Dr. Masse’s top five in softball

1. Milton (3-1): The surprise of the week might have been Mifflinburg beating Milton, 8-3. It was not shocking that undefeated Mifflinburg won, but rather how it won, delivering 12 hits against ace Kylie Brouse. It showed that as dominant as Brouse is, she is still human. She threw three shutouts in Milton’s first three games and was brilliant in a 1-0, 9-inning win against Loyalsock, throwing a four-hitter. Freshman Emily Snyder won that game with a walk-off single.

2. Central Mountain (5-1): The Wildcats have won five straight and are in first place in the HAC-I as they seek a second straight league championship. Central Mountain has scored 47 runs during its winning streak and had 10 hits in a hard-fought 5-3 win over rival Jersey Shore. Caitlyn Brush, Skylar Smith and Madison Knepp each had two hits in that win.

3. Williamsport (2-1): The Millionaires entered Monday’s game against Mifflin County in the midst of an offensive surge. Williamsport scored 24 runs and collected 31 hits in consecutive wins, one of its best offensive stretches over the last five seasons. Samantha Reeder has at least two hits in all three games and is 7 for 11 in her first year starting. Jessica Brooks led the way in a 14-3 win over Hollidaysburg, going 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Freshman Kalindi Maggs added two hits. If Williamsport continues hitting well it will be especially tough to beat because pitcher Mikayla Aldenderfer is one of the area’s best and the defense has shown nice improvement the last two games.

4. South Williamsport (4-0): The Mounties are one of the district’s youngest team with nine freshmen but could not have started their season much better. South had not been outside before playing its first game against District 4 Class A title contender but is 4-0 for the first time since 2010. The Mounties are receiving solid contributions throughout the roster and the offense produced 42 runs in its last three wins. South delivered 16 hits in Saturday’s 19-5 win against Canton as catcher Hanna Hennigan went 4 for 6 with three doubles and five RBIs. Sister Emily threw a three-inning perfect game against Sullivan County and Ashley Gardner, Lilly Eiswerth and Natalya Steppe had two-hit games against Canton.

5. Loyalsock (2-2): The Lancers have played a demanding early-season schedule but are coming on strong, nearly beating Milton and handing Warrior Run its first loss in five games last Thursday when it won, 9-7. Sophomore pitcher Juliana Cruz threw a four-hitter against Milton and the offense produced 16 hits against Warrior Run, a team that had allowed one run in its four wins. Katie Welker, Sam Stopper, Rhiallie Jessell and Elizabeth Haller had three-hit games and Jessell slammed a 210-foot home run. Loyalsock not only is hitting well, but hitting smart with batters taking pitches many pitches the opposite way, especially with two strikes.

“We have a lot of new girls this year and at first we were having a little bit of a hard time coming together but we’re finally there and it feels really good to play like a team,” Haller said after going 3 for 4 with two RBIs against Warrior Run.

“They’re really a good group of girls. They work hard so hopefully we’ll build on this one and keep going,” coach Tom O’Malley said. “That was a good team win. Warrior Run is a good team and that (Milton) game builds character which is good. I’m happy for the team and they played well and it was a good overall team win.”

Players of the week

Alexis Schuler, South and Anne Weller, Neumann: Talk about making a strong high school debut. Schuler, a freshman, won her first three starts in the circle, threw a 3-hitter against last year’s Class A state semifinalist Bloomsburg and struck out eight against Canton. Oh yeah, Schuler also can hit and went 5 for 9 with a triple and two RBIs in South’s last two wins. Weller also is a dual threat, who had 14 strikeouts in two wins and went 6 for 7 offensively. Weller went 4 for 4 against Benton and delivered six straight hits at one point while hitting two doubles and scoring four runs against Benton.

Game of the week

Warrior Run at South Williamsport: Tuesday’s game should be a fun one between two strong teams who are a combined 8-1. Both teams have some excellent senior players and both are loaded with young and talented athletes. Expect a close and entertaining contest between teams hoping to make a lot of noise.