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Area softball teams seek district crowns as playoffs begin today

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Jersey Shore’s Isabelle Engel throws against Montgomery during a game this year. Jersey Shore is one of just two teams in the District 4 Class AAAA tournament and will look to win the district championship against Shamokin.

Three weeks into the softball season some teams had not played more than three games. Inclement weather did its best to disrupt things but against the odds most teams completed their schedules.

And in what feels like the blink of an eye, the playoffs already are upon us. The following is a look at the four District 4 tournaments which start today.

Williamsport competes through District 2 in the 6A division and earned the top seed. It will play the winner of the Wilkes-Barre at Delaware Valley game in Wednesday’s semifinals at Elm Park. If the Millionaires (13-6) can win that game, they likely would meet eight-time defending champion Hazleton in the final. The Cougars have downed Williamsport seven times in those finals, so motivation for this postseason should not be a problem.

District 4 Class AAAA

(2 teams, champion advances)

Well, this one is easy. Not much to break down here as only Jersey Shore and Shamokin qualified. Those two will play for the championship Friday at Elm Park.

Jersey Shore (14-5) swept the season series, including winning last Thursday. This is a new season, though, and Shamokin came within a hit of defeating eventual state quarterfinalist Danville after facing a similar scenario a year ago.

Jersey Shore has come storming back after missing the postseason for the first time in 2000s a year ago, winning its last six games. The Bulldogs feature a balanced offense and have scored seven or more runs in each of their last five games. Freshman pitcher Isabelle Engel has made a big impact as well, going 11-4 in the circle.

Shamokin returned a quality core from last year’s finalist and has scored 33 runs in its last three games. Going back to last year, Shamokin and Jersey Shore have split their last four contests.

Player to Watch–Emma Pfirman, Jersey Shore: The sophomore infielder is having a strong season and has been swinging it well down the stretch. Pfirman is 5 for 7 over her last two games with three doubles and seven RBIs.

Projected final: Jersey Shore over Shamokin

Class AAA

(6 teams, champion advances)

Because the PIAA refuses to use common sense and continues rewarding perennially weak District 12 with two berths, one of the state’s premier districts only will take the champion. How much of a joke is this? Last year’s District 4 runner-up Central Columbia reached the state semifinals and was a hit away from the championship.

The two District 12 teams lost by a combined 29-0 in the first round. It’s just wrong, but I digress. This is a deep field and today’s games both are exciting ones with No. 6 heading to No. 3 Loyalsock and No. 5 Bloomsburg going to No. 4 North Penn-Liberty.

Defending district champion Loyalsock (13-6) has been up and down at times but showed how dangerous it can be when it defeated the state’s then No. 1-ranked team Abington Heights, 8-4 a week and a half ago. Marissa Helmrich is one of the district’s top pitchers and the offense has shown explosiveness at times with Hannah Winter having a big season and Anna Luxenberger and Mallory Rodarmel coming on strong at the perfect time,

Montoursville (10-9) gets another shot at its rival after the Lancers swept two regular-season games. The Warriors have the potential to be a tough out, losing three one-run heartbreakers to the top seeds, Central and Lewisburg. Hannah Klotz is a tough lead-off hitter, Mahlon Yonkin and Jocelyn Jean have pitched well and Montoursville being the lowest seeded team in this field shows just how deep it is.

No. 2 Lewisburg awaits this winner in Thursday’s semifinals. The Green Dragons (14-3) have won 14 of their last 15 games and are the only HAC-II team which defeated Central. Lewisburg is 4-0 against Loyalsock and Montoursille and features one of the tournament’s most complete offenses. Rylee and Dyroff, Erin Field and Sydney Bolinsky have especially surged late and Alexis Walter and Kimmy Shannon form a quality pitching tandem.

North Penn-Liberty (14-5) has enjoyed a terrific bounce-back season, making an eight-win improvement and reaching the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. This is a young team as well, so the Mounties may just be getting started. McKenzi Tice and Addie Smith both have excelled in the circle and the different players have come up big at key times offensively, helping North Penn-Liberty win seven of its last eight games.

The winner of Bloomsburg-North Penn-Liberty faces Central Columbia. The Blue Jays feature possibly the state’s best pitcher in Mea Consentino. The senior left-hander has been dominant since reaching high school in 2019 and now the offense is surging, too, with the Blue Jays scoring 16 runs in their last two games. Alyx Flick is 5 for 5 in her last five at-bats with a home run, double and six RBIs.

Tournament sleeper–Bloomsburg: The 2019 champions have come on strong at the right time and swept two games from Lewisburg. They also lost 1-0 to Central last week and feature a dangerous offense led by Purdue-bound Rita Nuss. She and sophomore Maddie Devine have combined for six home runs and 49 RBIs.

Player to watch–Mallory Rodarmel, Loyalsock: The senior left fielder has some good pop in the lower part of Loyalsock’s order and closed the regular season strong. Rodarmel hit a grand slam Thursday at Warrior Run and over her previous three games she has two home runs, two triples and a double.

Projected semifinals: Central over Bloomsburg; Lewisburg over Loyalsock. Projected final: Central over Lewisburg

Class AA

(4 teams, finalists advance)

The finalists advancing here comes with a caveat. The runner-up must compete in a play-in game first to have a shot at entering the 16-team part of the state tournament against the District 6 champion. District 4 made a huge splash here last year as Line Mountain captured the state title. The two-time defending champions, however, were ravaged by graduation so a new champion will be crowned.

South Williamsport (13-5) earned the top seed and faces No. 4 Northwest this afternoon. Before running into Central last Wednesday, South had won eight straight games. The Mounties feature an exciting blend of senior leaders and talented freshmen and played a demanding schedule to prepare for the postseason.

The lineup has been solid Nos. 1-9 and six players have hit home runs. Alizabeth Schuler has pitched well in her debut season, going 9-3 with a 2.21 ERA.

The Northwest-South winner plays Muncy or Wyalusing in the championship. No. 2 Wyalusing has played in four consecutive finals and captured the 2017-18 titles. Despite losing several starters from last year, the Rams (13-5) have put together an outstanding season and captured the NTL-I championship. Laci Norton and Jenelle Johns each are hitting over .400 and Johns and London Edwards each average around a strikeout per inning.

Muncy is trying to reach its first final since 2017 when it was in Class A. Like South and Wyalusing, the Indians have a nice mix of exciting youth and experience. Sophomore pitcher Nolah Moyer has had a big year and is among the district leaders in strikeouts. The offense has been productive throughout the lineup and the defense has been strong.

Tournament sleeper–Northwest: The Rangers (13-6) are making their District 4 debut after previously playing in District 2. Eight players have at least 10 RBIs and Charleigh Miner and Erin Nevel each are hitting above .400

Player to watch–Casey Fry, Muncy: The sophomore shortstop is a slick fielder who combines with second baseman Izzy Gush to make Muncy strong up the middle. Fry also is a good hitter near the top of the lineup and is 4 for 6 with five RBIs and five runs over her last two games. Projected final: Wyalusing over South

Class A

(7 teams, finalists advance)

What a field this is. The top five seeded teams all finished with winning percentages of .789 or higher and Millville and Sullivan County essentially have been playing playoff games the last few weeks to qualify, so they are accustomed to playoff-type situations.

Defending champion Montgomery is the No. 3 seed and captured a third straight Mid-Penn championship. As they did last year, the Red Raiders also scheduled strong and three of their losses are close ones against Jersey Shore, Central Columbia and South. This is a senior-laden team and all those seniors have their finger prints upon the program’s success the past three seasons.

Faith Persing is one of the field’s top pitchers and different hitters have produced big games throughout the season with Kaitlyn Raemsch being one of its top run producers. Montgomery hosts Millville today in a rematch of last year’s semifinals. The Quakers (9-9) are led by Carlee Charles who has hit eight home runs.

The Millville-Montgomery winner faces either Sullivan County or Bucktail in the semifinals. No. 7 Sullivan (9-7) has made a tremendous comeback after starting the season 1-6 and has won five straight games. Loreana Marquardt struck out 23 in a playoff-clinching double header sweep of St. John Neumann last Thursday and is one of seven starters hitting over .300.

Bucktail has built an excellent program over the last five years, reaching the playoffs each time and capturing the 2019 district championship. Montgomery is the only team to beat the Bucks (17-2) but they pushed Montgomery hard in the rematch two weeks ago. Emma Poorman and Makenzie Wagner form a strong pitching duo and are part of a dangerous offense which is hitting a collective .415. Senior Jordan Burrows is the program’s all-time hits later and Poorman has topped 100 RBIs in less than three years.

Top-seeded Northeast Bradford (13-2) reached last year’s final and captured the NTL-II championship. The Panthers return a strong core from last year’s team, including Emily Susanj, one of the field’s top hitters, and pitcher Thailey Franklin. This also is a deep offensive team.

NEB is familiar with whoever it will play in the semifinals. It split two games with No. 4 Canton and won two one-run thrillers against No. 5 Cowanesque Valley. It also defeated Canton in last year’s semifinals.

Canton (16-4) may be the field’s hottest team, winning nine straight games. Included in that strech is the NEB win as well as a 1-0, eight-inning thriller at Montgomery in which Keri Wesneski threw a four-hitter. That is the only time in its last four games, Canton did not top 10 runs.

Tournament sleeper–Cowanesque Valley: The Indians (16-4) are having an excellent season as well and swept two games from Canton. CV is the last team to defeat the Warriors, beating it 9-5. Megan Hyde and Ruby Sherman are two of several pitchers CV has utilized this season and there are several threats in this lineup, including Ashley Woodring who is among the area’s home run leaders.

Player to watch–Makenzie Wagner, Bucktail: In addition to going 9-1 in the circle, the sophomore also is having one of the best offensive seasons among area players. Wagner is hitting .609 with 14 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs, while also playing super defense at shortstop.

Projected semifinals: NEB over CV; Bucktail over Montgomery. Projected final: NEB over Bucktail.

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