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Chris Masse on softball: District playoff fields are slowly starting to come together

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Marissa Helmrich and Loyalsock are in a rugged Class AAA field that features six strong teams. The Lancers are 12-5, behind Central Columbia (15-2) and Lewisburg (12-3) in the field.

It seems like the season just started, but we already have entered the regular season’s final week and the playoffs start a week from today. With that in mind, the District 4 playoff fields are starting to take shape and the following is a look at where stands.

Williamsport is battling Hazleton for the top seed in the District 2-4 Class 6A tournament. Five teams will qualify, so both have byes into the semifinals but the top seed potentially could have home field advantage if District 2 runs its tournament as it did last year. The Millionaires (10-6) hold a slim advantage in the power rankings and control their destiny these last few days after thumping Altoona, 14-2 in five innings Saturday.

The same goes for Jersey Shore in Class AAA. The Bulldogs (12-5) have held the top spot most of the season and won a big game against Shamokin last Thursday to open a bigger lead. Jersey Shore plays Shamokin again later this week, but appears within a win or two of securing the top spot.

Earning the No. 1 seed could net a bye into the championship. Jersey Shore and Shamokin are the only two teams which have clinched berths, although two more teams will be in if they win their finales. Defending champion Danville (8-9) plays Mifflinburg today and Athens (9-10) has Montgomery tomorrow. Midd-West (6-10) must win its last four games to qualify. Midd-West holds a slim advantage over Athens in the power rankings, so there is a chance it could qualify even if below .500 if Athens went 10-10, especially with three winnable games remaining on its schedule.

The Class AAA field will be a rugged one featuring six strong teams. Last year’s runner-up and state semifinalist Central Columbia (15-2) looks like it will be the top seed and Lewisburg (12-3) holds No. 2 but defending champion Loyalsock (12-5) is charging after beating the state’s top-ranked team in Class 5A Abington Heights on Saturday. If the Lancers beat Class 6A Williamsport Wednesday, they could potentially vault Lewisburg. Earning those first two seeds is a big deal since a bye into the semifinals comes with them.

Those top two seeds also would avoid tough quarterfinal matchups against Bloomsburg (10-8) and Montoursville (10-8). The Panthers look like they will be No. 5 barring upsets this week and could be headed to North Penn-Liberty (13-5) which is the field’s most improved team and is sitting at No. 4. Wherever the seedings fall, this will be a highly competitive and tournament.

It looks like the Class AA playoffs will feature a four-team field as it did last week. South Williamsport, Wyalusing, Muncy and Northwest all have qualified. Every other team has been eliminated. Troy is 4-10 but only has 18 games scheduled. All remaining teams have lost 11 or more games.

South (13-4) holds the top seed and had a fairly large lead on Wyalusing (13-5) entering the final week. Wyalusing does not have any more games scheduled, so South appears a win or two away from securing that spot. Muncy (13-4) is No. 3 and possibly could flip with Wyalusing but that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things since they would play in the semifinals regardless. The bigger question is whether the Indians will hold off Northwest (12-5) for the third spot or slip to No. 4.

As mentioned last week, the Class A tournament will be a fantastic one. Five teams have qualified and all five have are 10 or more games above .500, so each one is a serious title contender. Millville (8-8) and Sullivan County (6-7) also could earn berths and make this a six or seven-team field.

Northeast Bradford (12-2) has a slim lead on Montgomery (14-3) for the top spot, but those first five teams are not separated by a whole lot and there could be a lot of movement yet. Bucktail (15-2), Cowanesque Valley (14-3) and Canton (15-4) are Nos. 3-5 but how this all shakes out will come down to the final few days this week.

Highlighting the depth here, Canton has beaten both NEB and Montgomery, while CV swept two games from Canton.

SURGING SULLIVAN

Sullivan County has come storming back into the playoff picture, winning six of its last seven games. The Griffins have made some major strides this season and will reach districts for just the second time in the 2000s if they win two of their final three games. Sullivan has a double header today against St. John Neumann and hosts CMVT Wednesday.

The Griffins have slugged their way back into contention, scoring at least eight runs in their last seven games and at least 11 in all six wins. Sullivan highlighted that run with exciting final at-bat wins against Sayre last week, winning 20-19 and 15-14. Players are hitting well throughout the lineup and six different plays produced multiple hits in those victories.

Pitcher Lorena Marquardt collected her 100th strikeout early last week and also was 2 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs in the second Sayre win. Brianna Bottiglieri wore Sayre pitchers out, going 5 for 10 with a triple and eight RBIs.

EXTRA BASES

Montgomery captured its third straight Mid-Penn championship with a hard-fought 7-3 win against Bucktail and a 12-1 win at St. John Neumann. The Red Raiders have won 40 straight league games going back to 2019 and rallied from a one-run deficit to beat Bucktail with second baseman Sloan Wooten making one of the year’s best plays and making a diving catch which prevented Bucktail from taking a 5-4 lead … Speaking of Bucktail, the Bucks took two games from Muncy in exciting fashion, winning 3-2 in 10 innings and 5-4. It was a big week for Jordan Burrows as well with the senior catcher/infielder breaking the career program record for hits with 86. Making that more impressive, Burrows lost her sophomore year to the pandemic … Muncy bounced back in strong fashion Saturday, blanking Southern Columbia, 15-0 in four innings. The bottom of the order shined with Lily Frederick, Nicolette Johnson and Callie Gentzyel going 5 for 6 with two doubles and five RBIs. Nolah Moyer threw a one-hitter and was 3 for 4 … Neumann (6-10) has made major strides this season, winning five more games than a year ago. Neumann earned its sixth win by overcoming a six-run deficit and defeating CMVT, 23-8. Brianna Lisi and Lizzie Weller each had three hits and combined for five RBIs, while Lily Reid went 2 for 4 with four RBIs … Hughesville erupted for 15 hits in an 18-4 win at Southern Columbia. Sara Stroup made a run at the cycle, going 3 for 4 with a home run, triple, double and four RBIs. Five players had two hits … North Penn-Liberty (13-5) defeated Hughesville Saturday and Saige Lehman had a big game, going 2 for 4 with a home run and six RBIs. The Mounties have made a seven-win improvement this season and received one-hit pitching from Addie Smith and Payton Chapel who also went a combined 6 for 7 with three RBIs.

Chris Masse covers high school softball and may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. Central Mountain (15-2): The Wildcats have earned a share of the HAC-I championship and need just a win against Midd-West or Milton to win that crown outright. It was a non-league win, however, which stood out last week. Central Mountain rallied from down two runs in the seventh inning to beat defending champion Bellefonte, 8-7 in a rematch of last year’s District 6 Class 6A final. Madiysn Wian sparked the comeback and went 3 for 4 with two doubles, while Caitlyn Watson and Gracie Saar produced two hits each. Central Mountain features a balanced offense and seven starters are hitting .320 or higher.

2. Lewisburg (12-3): Lewisburg has won 12 of its last 13 games and complete a regular-season sweep of Loyalsock last Thursday, defeating it, 7-3. The Green Dragons feature a balanced offense and were really locked in last week, producing 39 runs and 46 hits in four wins. Kimmy Shannon and Alexis Walter are an effective pitching tandem as well and each won two games with Walter concluding the busy week by throwing a two-hit shutout against Milton. Sophomore catcher Sydney Bolinsky has been a big part of the offense’s surge and put together an excellent week, going 8 for 14 with a home run, two doubles and six RBIs. Erin Field also had three multiple-hit games.

3. South Williamsport (13-4): It had to wait until Saturday to play its first game last week, but South made it a good one with every starter earning a hit in a 12-0, five-inning win against Towanda. The Mounties have won 10 of their last 11 games, including eight straight. Claire Alexander, Alizabeth Schuler, Sage Lorson and Olivia Beck all had two hits and Gianna Goodman hit a triple. Schuler and Aleigha Rieppel combined on the two-hit shutout and Schuler struck out eight batters in three innings. South was scheduled to play Jersey Shore and Monday and heads to Central Columbia Wednesday. Both are games and strong opponents which can help South as it prepares for the postseason.

4. Jersey Shore (12-5): A busy team also was a successful one last week as Jersey Shore earned its playoff berth. The Bulldogs won four games in four days, rallying late in their last two to defeat Shikellamy and Milton. They overcame multiple-run deficits in both contests and also allowed just three runs in the first two victories against Selinsgrove and Shamokin. Jersey Shore’s offense is heating up and collected 30 hits in the final two wins, avenging a previous defeat against Shikellamy before surging past Milton, 12-9, in nine innings. Cousins Grace and Rachel Lorson each were a home run and triple, respectively from hitting for the cycle in that game. Grace went 3 for 6 with a triple, double and three RBIs, while Rachel was 3 for 6 with a home run, double and two RBIs.

5. Loyalsock (12-5): Time will tell the impact of Saturday’s thrilling win against Abington Heights, but it potentially could be a game-changer, coming against a team which was 15-1 and atop the state rankings. Loyalsock won in just about the most exciting fashion possible as Anna Luxenberger drilled a walk-off grand slam. Mallory Rodarmel also homered and hit a triple, while Hannah Winter and Allyia Kennedy added two hits each, as Loyalsock erased a late-game deficit. Just like in girls basketball, Loyalsock plays in the loaded HAC-II, but also schedules some of the toughest opponents it can find for the non-conference games. It has helped both programs flourish come playoff time and Loyalsock is hoping it pays dividends again.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK — Isabelle Engel, Jersey Shore and Rylee Dyroff, Lewisburg

In addition to winning four games in the circle, Engel shined at the plate. The freshman continued her fantastic debut season in impressive fashion, going 10 for 15 in Jersey Shore’s four wins. Engel produced at least two hits in all four games and capped her big week by going 3 for 5 with an RBI against Milton. Dyroff gave opposing pitchers fits all week and the team’s No. 3 hitter generated four straight multi-hit games. Dyroff went 10 for 15 with two home runs, a double, 10 RBIs and eight runs. She homered in consecutive games, twice had three-hit performances and drove in a run each game.

GAME OF THE WEEK — Loyalsock at Williamsport

They just avoided playing each other at the Williamsport Tournament a few weeks ago, but Wednesday these backyard rivals collide at Elm Park. Williamsport likely has had this game circled since the schedule came out after Loyalsock shocked it, 15-0 in last year’s Williamsport tournament championship. These are two proud programs with strong players throughout the roster. They both have their eyes on gearing up for the postseason, but one can bet the Lancers and Millionaires want this one bad.

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