Trib Cup: Franklin Regional softball team on the move again
Jumping sections may be the toughest task the Franklin Regional softball team will have to battle this season.
After going 11-1 and winning the section title each of the past two seasons in Section 2-AAAA, the Panthers have moved to Section 1 — a section known for its perennial championship contenders and numerous playoff qualifiers.
Coach Jim Armstrong welcomes the challenge.
The Panthers (4-2, 1-1) ended the 2012 season with a 17-3 record after falling to Seneca Valley in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Despite having to replace its ace pitcher, hopes are high that another playoff berth is attainable.
This week, the Panthers softball team is featured for its role in helping Franklin Regional to an 11th-place standing in Class AAAA for the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award.
“The big difference this season is the section we're in,” Armstrong said.
“I think it's the best section out there, if not one of the top two. I think we're going to be much more focused on what we need to do.
“We know we're the underdog, and we kind of like it like that.”
Replacing a pair of graduates — starting pitcher Sam Johnson (Geneva) and second baseman Savannah Barnes (Slippery Rock) — will be the priority for the Panthers.
Armstrong said he thinks the holes will be filled and a preseason trip to Florida proved as much.
“A few other players opened some eyes because of their play when they got in,” he said. “Heading into the season, I thought someone would be a lock for a position, then I saw someone else play.
“It was the first time that I was able to make a judgment upon what I really thought to what happened ... but getting down there helped this time.”
Franklin Regional went 3-1 on its trip to Cocoa Beach, Fla., outscoring opponents, 36-10.
Senior Dana Bacharach has taken over pitching duties and has a reliable backstop in senior catcher Kaelin Jackson.
Armstrong said the relationship between the duo will be vital in the team's success.
“Where we go is going to be contingent on them making the right pitches,” Armstrong said. “Dana has to be strong and get through some tough innings, but she's a level kid who can do it.
“Kaelin calls a good game, and she's going to (Division I) Maryland Baltimore County College, so obviously someone thinks she's doing something right.”
Jackson hit .460 last season and was an all-section selection.
Around the diamond, Armstrong will field a team with several returning starters.
Seniors Courtney Roperti (center field) and Nicole Berardinell (first base) bring experience, leadership and sharp defensive abilities to the starting lineup. Junior Alexa Fike has found a comfortable home at third base after spending time at second last year. Sophomore shortstop Angela Buccilli has emerged after starting as a freshman.
“Our goal is to focus on the team we're playing that day,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal in the end is to get in the playoffs and win a championship. To do that, you gotta take care of what you gotta take care of.
“We gotta take care of getting a win, and to do that you have to focus on that team right there. Everything else will pan out.”
While Armstrong said he is not sure what his team's identity is, he knows it is focused and will approach each game like it's the most important one on the schedule.
“I think we're very workmanlike,” he said. “They are a tremendous group of girls that do a good job. They go out and do what they need to do and go one game at a time. We always say one pitch, one game, one at bat at time.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.