Hennigan keeps Wellsboro offense quiet

Pregame discussions along the third-base line Saturday afternoon highlighted the wrecking crew that has been the South Williamsport offense. Scoring 38 runs and pounding out 32 hits in three games can do that.

But while the offense generated the publicity, how good South’s pitching and defense have been, seemed overlooked. That should be the case no more.

Emily Hennigan let just three singles leave the infield Saturday, threw another gem and added a go-ahead, two-run double as South defeated Wellsboro, 7-2, and stayed undefeated. Hennigan and Mookie Sauers are now both 2-0 and have surrendered just three runs in four games. They have been backed by a reliable defense that made no errors yesterday and has just two in four games.

Yes, South can hit. But it can do a lot more, too. This team is as complete as it is explosive.

“They (Hennigan and Sauers) were kind of discounted a little bit based on how the scores were lopsided. That overshadowed how well both girls pitched,” South coach Scott Stugart said. “They have been throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes and there’s a lot of good factors there. We knew they did better than other people might have perceived they did.”

“We have faith in Emily and Mookie. They both have stepped up in a really big way,” catcher Ashley Gardner said. “People wondered what are we going to do, but they have really come through and we’ve been working hard on defense. We moved people around, but we’re really starting to piece it together as a team.”

The Mounties defeated three-time defending NTL-I champion Wellsboro for the first time since 2014, scoring five third-inning runs to erase a 1-0 deficit. South hit five home runs in Thursday’s win at Southern Columbia, but was limited to six hits yesterday. Instead of mashing the ball, South received clutch hits at key times and drew five walks in that third-inning rally, including RBI walks from Sarah Sullivan and Sami Branton.

Hennigan helped her cause and gave South a lead it never relinquished when she drove a 2-0 pitch into the right-center field gap for a two-run double. Lilly Eiswerth, who had walked a batter earlier, scored on the play as well when the throw home sailed high and South took a 3-1 lead. Hennigan has consistently been delivering key hits and has seven RBIs in her last three games, while smashing two home runs and a double.

“I saw the bases loaded and went in with the mindset that this is just like practice. I just wanted to get a base hit and it went,” Hennigan said. “The whole way through the lineup we’re pretty tough hitters. If one of us doesn’t get a hit the other person picks us up. It’s really nice to have that aspect to our team.”

It also is nice having consistent pitching like Sauers and Hennigan have provided. Sauers threw a four-inning no-hitter at Southern and Hennigan threw a three-hitter in her season debut against Canton. Wellsboro, however, provided Hennigan a significant test, which she passed with honors.

Hennigan did not overpower Wellsboro, but put on a pitching clinic. The junior right-hander walked none, went to three-ball counts just twice, worked ahead, mixed her pitches and moved the ball well. Wellsboro was off-balance all afternoon. Kerrah Clymer and Heidi Zuchowski both had two hits but Wellsboro (3-3) struggled to hit the ball out of the infield and pulled as close as three runs following South’s big third inning. Together, Sauers and Hennigan have limited four opponents to just 12 hits.

“We had a lot of practice in the preseason, working extra and coming to practice early,” Hennigan said. “We both feel pretty good. It’s good to show how good we can be.”

“She was hitting her spots really well,” Gardner said. “She was throwing them off with her off-speed. She was piecing it all together and focusing on how it’s just me and her and keeping her composure.”

Like it did in the third inning after Wellsboro scored its first run, South immediately answered after it scored its second as well. Sullivan (1 for 2, RBI) dropped a perfect lead-off bunt up the first-base line and scored on Gardner’s double to left field. Gardner came home a batter later when Sydney Bachman, who played a strong game at shortstop, hit a sacrifice fly to right field.

Wellsboro pitcher Cathryn Brought threw well in relief, striking out nine in 3 2/3 innings, but South did enough to provide some valuable insurance and Hennigan sealed the win by inducing three straight infield pop-outs. Gardner continued her torrid start and has hit safely in all four games. She also has six extra-base hits, including at least one in each game.

All but one Mountie reached base at least once and the defending co-HAC-III champions are 4-0 for a second straight year. This, despite having no seniors. Yesterday’s game was just the kind South needed as well. The Mounties had stomped their first three opponents but this performance showed those results were no fluke. This one showed that the District 4 Class AA finalists last season mean business once again.

“It’s been staying after practice and taking those extra reps. A bunch of girls have been hitting in the cages after practice,” Gardner said. “It’s that extra time we’ve put in that has been really helping.”

“They want to get better,” Stugart said. “We faced some good pitchers today and they had a little different speeds so there was an adjustment to make. I’m glad we faced them and was pleased with how we performed.”

Wellsboro 001 001 0–2 7 3

South 005 002 x–7 6 0

Kerrah Clymer, Cathryn Brought (3) and Sydney Tremper. Emily Hennigan and Ashley Gardner. W: Hennigan, (2-0). L: Clymer, (0-1).

Top Wellsboro hitters: Clymer 2-3; Tremper 1-3, run; Heidi Zuchowski 2-3, RBI; Jena Boyce 1-3, run, SB; Tiana Lecker 1-3. Top South hitters: Gardner 1-3, 2B, BB, RBI, 2 runs; Sydney Bachman BB, RBI; Lilly Eiswerth 1-3, BB, run; Hennigan 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs, run; Mookie Sauers 1-3, run; Sarah Sullivan 1-2, RBI, run; Sami Branton 1-2, BB, RBI, run.

Records: South (4-0), Wellsboro (3-3).