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Chris Masse on softball: Williamsport has a lot of depth on a talented roster

Williamsport coach Chase Smith often feels frustrated. But his is a problem most coaches envy.

Smith has trouble filling out a lineup card because his team is so deep. Williamsport is dressing 17 players and Smith has full confidence that each one can and will produce. Early indications are he is right.

Williamsport has scored 15 runs and collected 20 hits in its first two games. Despite being shut down most of last week, the Millionaires defeated State College, 7-5, Saturday and had three players deliver multi-hit performances. It was that way in a season-opening win against Tunkhannock the previous week.

As far as dilemmas go, it does not get a whole lot better than this one.

“I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to get 17 extremely kids into a starting nine,” Smith said. “There’s girls on the bench that don’t even get to play that can start anywhere else. It’s frustrating for them but it’s comforting to know whoever we put out there will play well.”

Smith already has received stellar contributions from his reserves, including Abby Robertson hitting a three-run triple against Tunkhannock. Seven players collected hits against State College and the Millionaires feature a nice blend of potential power and speed.

Even without a week of practice, Williamsport hardly appeared rusty against State College. The Millionaires scored five runs in the fourth and fifth innings and Myla Kelley, Aubri Blair and Isabelle Griswold all produced two hits. Emma Dickey and Layla Waldman delivered multi-hit performances against Tunkhannock and hit Nos. 8-9 in the lineup so there really is no time an opposing pitcher can feel relaxed.

“We have girls that can play multiple positions,” Griswold said after also making two excellent defensive plays late in Saturday’s game. “We have girls that are willing to hit, willing to bunt, willing to do anything and that just shows that are team is going to be something to watch for this year.”

“Coming back from having a year off there are nerves when you get to the varsity level,” Kelley said. “It’s comforting having a lot of good players around you.”

That comfort spreads to the pitching circle. Sophomore Kendall McAnelly has excelled in pressure situations throughout her first two high school starts. The hard-working right-hander stranded nine baserunners in five innings against State College, took a shutout into the seventh against Tunkhannock’s potent offense and has thrown scoreless innings in 10 of her 12 innings thrown. Waldman provided depth against State College and closed out the game.

Losing last year’s scholastic season hurt, but nearly every Williamsport player enjoyed a strong travel ball season, and that success has carried over to the spring. The chemistry is growing, and the really exciting thing is that Williamsport still is just getting started.

A large portion of the Millionaires are playing high school softball for the first time. They are proving quick learners and Smith could have some tough decisions to make all season. He likes it that way, though, because he knows whatever cards he is holding can produce wins.

“There isn’t anybody I don’t have confidence in in the whole program, not just in varsity but in junior varsity, too,” Smith said.

“It feels great. I love the team,” Kelley said. Everyone comes together. Everyone plays for what we love and it’s great being back.”

FANTASTIC FRESHMEN

Jersey Shore’s Jocelyn McCracken and Muncy’s Nolah Moyer did not look like rookies in their high school debuts last week. Both freshmen pitchers were spectacular and helped their teams successfully open their seasons, allowing a combined two hits.

McCracken threw a one-hitter against defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Mifflinburg in a rematch of the 2019 final as Jersey Shore won, 3-1. She also was 2 for 3 with a double as was fellow freshman Kaitlyn Herman.

Moyer overpowered Sugar Valley for four innings and surrendered just one hit in an 11-1 win. Like McCracken, Moyer also provided an offensive jolt, going 4 for 4 with three RBIs. Rory Oden and Lily Frederick each had big games as well, going a combined 6 for 8 with five RBIs.

EXTRA BASES

Keep an eye on Cowanesque Valley. The Indians are 3-0 and have scored 33 runs in their first three games. Makayla Vargeson is pitching well and also has two home runs while the offense has produced at least eight runs in each game … Lexi Walters threw a two-hitter, struck out eight and crushed a home run as Lewisburg blanked Montoursville, 10-0. She, Rylee Dyroff and Brynn Wagner all had two hits and Dyroff and Wagner combined for two doubles and five RBIs … Wellsboro delivered 14 hits in its season opening 11-5 win against Williamson. Jena Boyce went 3 for 4 with a double and three runs and Abbye Cavanaugh smashed a home run.

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

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. Williamsport (2-0): Catcher Emma Dickey displayed her offensive prowess against Tunkhannock before putting on a defensive show against State College. The game was scoreless in the top of the second inning when consecutive State College batters drew walks. Each one tried stealing second and Dickey made perfect laser-like throws each time, erasing them. Dickey changed the game’s complexion, kept it scoreless and prevented State College from building early momentum. Dickey also kept every low pitch in front of her and her defense played a vital role in Williamsport winning.

“It sets the tone for how base runners are going to treat us. If Emma throws out those two runners like she did no one is going to run on us the rest of the game. It’s not even a consideration,” Smith said. “Our middle infield can relax a little bit and we don’t have to worry about watching runners. They didn’t really try to bunt on us either. Emma is incredible.”

2. Loyalsock (1-0): Like Smith, Loyalsock coach Mark Godfrey has plenty of exciting options throughout his roster. The Lancers showcased that depth in a 10-0 season-opening win against Warrior Run with Hailey Berkhiser and Hannah Winter coming off the bench to ignite the game-clinching rally with consecutive singles. Loyalsock hit well throughout the line, producing 12 hits and Marissa Helmrich threw a five-inning no-hitter. Summer McNulty (3 for 3) and Grace Shaible (2 for 3) both started on Loyalsock’s 2019 HAC-II champion and reached base six times while driving in three runs, scoring three times and stealing three bases.

3. Central Mountain (2-0): The Wildcats rallied from four runs down in the fifth inning to beat State College, 6-5 in their opener before going on an offensive rampage against Selinsgrove and turning an early two-run deficit into a 20-2 victory. Central Mountain pounded out 28 hits in those wins and eight different players already have at least two hits. Freshman pitcher Adalynn McKeague is looking strong as well, scattering five hits in 10 innings while striking out 15.

4. Montgomery (0-0): Three games were postponed last week, and Montgomery is hoping it makes its long-awaited debut Wednesday at South Williamsport. The Red Raiders will be immediately tested with their first three games coming against South, Muncy and Warrior Run.

5. Bucktail (1-0): Pitchers Emma Poorman and Makenzie Wagner literally started their seasons perfectly in a 17-0 win against Galeton. Poorman and Wagner combined on the three-inning perfect game, striking out all nine batters they faced (Poorman six, Wagner three). Wagner is one of several exciting freshmen joining a quality core of players who helped Bucktail win its first District 4 Class A championship two years ago. Wagner went 3 for 3 and fellow freshman Alexis Lowery was 2 for 2 with a home run, double and three RBIs. Catcher Jordan Burrows earned all-state honors as a freshman and picked up where she left 2019 off against Galeton. Burrows ignited Bucktail from her lead-off spot and went 3 for 3 with two RBIs, three runs and two steals.

Players of the Week

Kerrah Clymer, Wellsboro;

Riley Houser, Central Mountain;

Jordan Burrows, Bucktail

Clymer was a two-way force against Williamson. The senior pitcher went 4 for 4 with two home runs, a double, four RBIs and three runs. She also struck out six. Houser has started her senior year on a tear, going 4 for 5 with six RBIs. Houser also has homered, belted two doubles, scored five times and stolen a base.

Game of the Week

Central Mountain at Jersey Shore

Friday’s rivalry contest should be a good one between tradition-laden programs with large expectations as always. These programs have combined to win four district championships in the past three seasons and this series has been defined by close and exciting games.

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