Chris Masse on high school softball: Tough schedule has made South stronger

South Williamsport entered Monday’s game against Midd-West one victory from reaching the playoffs. And South reaching the postseason would be a proper reward.

Because the Mounties sure have earned it.

South (9-8) has played one of the area’s toughest schedules, facing larger school teams in 13 of its 17 games. From one perspective, the schedule could be viewed as a negative since it has made reaching the playoffs difficult. From another, it can be viewed as a positive because if South does qualify for the Class AA tournament, it will be that field’s most battle-tested team. And that being so would make the Mounties mighty dangerous.

Just how potent South could be was on display last Tuesday in Turbotville. Warrior Run (13-2) had won eight straight games, was playing for a share of the HAC-III championship and led 3-0 with two outs in the sixth inning. Facing all-state pitcher Madi Waltman, who threw a no-hitter the first time these teams played, South easily could have folded. Instead it fought back, tied the game in the sixth and won it in the seventh on Ashley Gardner’s home run.

Warrior Run reached the Class AAA state quarterfinals a year ago and has a good core back from that team. Rallying to beat the Defenders could provide a turning point for South which then came within three outs of beating Class AAAA title contender Danville two days later, losing 6-4 in eight innings.

“We have probably one of the hardest schedules in the area and to beat a team that probably nobody thought we were going to beat definitely boosts our confidence so much,” third baseman Bella Bachman said after making a brilliant play for the final out. “We knew we needed to get it together and be ready for everything and we were.”

“We just keep fighting. They’re might be a few errors but the team will pick each other up,” Gardner said. “It’s no big deal. We tell them to shake it off, don’t dwell on it. You just keep going forward.”

That is what South has done while navigating this schedule. The season has been a roller coaster ride, but South has constantly picked itself up off the mat and come back ready for the next game, the next challenge. The Mounties had dropped two straight games before playing Warrior Run but came together when the pressure was highest and delivered their signature win thus far in 2019.

Honestly, if South was not such a tenacious, resilient team, this playoff pursuit might have been over long ago. The Mounties have rallied for three wins after trailing in the sixth inning or beyond this season and overcame a five-run, seventh-inning deficit at Montoursville last month, winning, 12-7. Those are the moments that define this team and those are the moments that have South believing it can come shining through in what look like the darkest moments.

“We didn’t hang our heads once,” Gardner said. “We were really lively in the dugout which we’ve been working on this year. We’ve been pushing for that more. I don’t think it was ever down at one point whatsoever, so we keep fighting.”

South has played four games against last year’s Class AAA district finalists and will play all four semifinalists after facing playoff-bound North Penn-Liberty Thursday. If the Mounties survive and advance they will be feeling good because of that schedule. Wyalusing has defeated South in the last two AA championships and is loaded again. Surging Line Mountain also is a title threat as is Troy, which stunned Wyalusing last week.

But one better believe, South also is a title contender if it qualifies. The Mounties will see excellent teams if they advance to districts, but that will be nothing new. There season has been nearly nothing but that.

And if what happened at Warrior Run was a start, then maybe South could create quite an ending.

“We have such a tough schedule and it is what it is but if we can make the playoffs than we are going to be battle-tested,” South coach Scott Stugart said. “We talked about that after the (Warrior Run) game. They’ve had some tough losses this year and you start questioning yourself sometimes, but they did an awesome job. It was a big moment for them in the season and it could be a moment for them to believe in themselves moving forward.”

CHAMPS AT LAST: Bucktail lost its first game last week, but fought back strong and captured the program’s first league championship, clinching a share of the Mid-Penn title. Bucktail (16-1) scored 24 runs in victories over St. John Neumann and CMVT and have eclipsed the previous program record for wins by six games. If Montgomery beats Neumann Tuesday, it and Bucktail will share the Mid-Penn crown, if Neumann wins, Bucktail wins it outright.

The Bucks have no seniors and could be just getting started. Three-year starting Myka Poorman helped pave the way last week, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the title-clinching win against CMVT while striking out seven. She also went 2 for 3 with a double and three runs. She, Emily Cross, Emma Intallura and Tessa Cowfer all delivered multi-hit performances.

EXTRA BASES: North Penn-Liberty has stormed back following a 3-5 start and is playoff-bound again after winning four straight games against four potential playoff teams last week. Savannah Doney earned the win in each game, throwing a 1-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts against rival Wellsboro while also reaching 500 career strikeouts. Jessica Kouba had three hits for Liberty and Sara Swingle had three hits against Troy … St. John Neumann capped its week with an 11-3 win against Benton as Maria Helminiak continued her breakout season and went 3 for 5 with four RBIs. Zuzu Shanaway and Juliana Kriner each collected two hits and winning pitcher Anne Weller hit a double and drove in two runs … Muncy left fielder Annabelle Bergey is having an outstanding season and was nearly perfect offensively in two games last week. Bergey went 7 for 8 with three doubles as Muncy split two games. She is a big reason a young Indians team is two wins from reaching districts. So is Jen Frederick who went 3 for 6 with four RBIs in the two games. Rory Oden won her eighth game and struck out eight in a 10-3 victory against CMVT … Sullivan County won twice, scoring 31 runs in those games with Lorena Marquardt and Jessica King homering against Benton. Madison Burke went 3 for 3 with two doubles and three RBIs … Cathryn Brought threw a two-hit shutout as Wellsboro moved within a victory of reaching the postseason, blanking Towanda, 7-0. Brought struck out eight and reached 220 for her career. Brought also homered and drove in three runs.

–Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Softball Teams

1. Loyalsock (16-3)

That South win, coupled with Loyalsock’s win at Hughesville, gave the Lancers the outright HAC-III championship so maybe they will put the Mounties on their Christmas Card list next December. Loyalsock put together three strong performances, outscoring quality opponents, 37-5. The Lancers looked especially strong in a 12-0 win at defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Jersey Shore. The Lancers continue producing well throughout the lineup and topped 10 hits in each victory, finishing with 44 hits in three games. Senior Maegan Reitz went 6 for 10 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs.

“We can definitely hit one through nine,” freshman right fielder Grace Shaible said after going 2 for 3 with a triple against Jersey Shore. “Knowing everyone can hit definitely makes you feel better because you know that they’ll pick you up when you come in the dugout.”

2. Warrior Run (14-2)

The Defenders quickly moved on following the South game and reminded all why they remain a serious district title contender, blanking both Selinsgrove and Shikellamy in mercy-rule victories. Madi Waltman surrendered just five hits in those games and struck out 40 in three games. She has an area-high 204 strikeouts and has topped 10 strikeouts 12 times. Marissa Pick is having a strong junior season and had three hits, including a double, in Saturday’s 10-0 win at Shikellamy. Freshman Valandra McHenry is having a big debut season and had three hits in the 10-0 Selinsgrove win as did Lauren Watson. The Defenders enter the regular-season’s final week battling Loyalsock and Central Columbia for District 4 Class AAA’s top seed.

3. Williamsport (13-4)

Only Class AAAAA state title contender Abington Heights prevented Williamsport from a perfect four-win week. The Millionaires have won nine of their last 11 games and swept two games from St. Hubert’s and Berwick last Saturday. Pitcher Lynna Robertson has 11 wins and freshman Hailey Debrody threw a four-hit gem against St. Hubert’s. Senior right fielder Mariah Wright returned from injury and made a big impact, stealing five bases in four games. Wright is a weapon on the bases, putting pressure on opponents and she also went 3 for 5 in Saturday’s sweep. Kylie Segraves also is surging and has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters the last few weeks. She hit safely in all four games, going 6 for 13 with a triple, double and five RBIs.

4. Jersey Shore (13-4)

A year ago, Jersey Shore started strong, hit a late-season bump in the road, but then captured the district title. The Bulldogs are hoping history repeats itself because they have struggled the last two weeks and were shutout in consecutive games against district rival Mifflinburg and Loyalsock. Jersey Shore was one of the district’s best hitting teams through 12 games, but has been shutout three times the past two weeks. Still, all it takes is one strong performance and everything could start clicking again. One better believe the Bulldogs remain a serious title contender after capturing the HAC-I championship earlier this season.

5. Montgomery (14-2)

Speaking of district title contenders, Montgomery certainly looks like a District 4 Class A one after throttling Bucktail, 12-1. The Raiders have won 13 straight games, their longest winning streak since 2010 and have a shot at winning their first league title since that season if they win Tuesday. Montgomery has been scoring runs in bunches and outscored four opponents, 55-3 last week. Starters and reserves have consistently been providing big performances, while Emily Snyder and Faith Persing both pitched well. Snyder has 12 wins and threw a three-hitter against Bucktail while striking out seven. Nine players had at least two hits in a game last week, including Abby Stryker who went 3 for 4 against Neumann. Morgan Tupper went 4 for 4 in that win.

Players of the Week

Faith Persing, Montgomery and Mackenzie Heater, North Penn-Liberty

Persing is putting together quite a debut season and the freshman was at her best last week, hitting and pitching well. Persing went 11 for 14 in four wins, slamming two home runs, a triple and a double. She also allowed only a run in four innings pitched and is providing a big spark from the top of the lineup. Heater is heating up at the perfect time and has been key to her team’s resurgence. Heater went 9 for 14 in Liberty’s wins, adding three doubles and four RBIs. She has produced at least two hits in four of her last five games.

Game of the Week

North Penn-Liberty at South Williamsport

Another game, another test for South. The Mounties are surging at the perfect time and Savannah Doney is one of the area’s best pitchers. This game could help both moving forward and should be close and exciting.

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