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Franklin Regional learning from losses in tougher section

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional catcher Kaelin Jackson looks down to second base during their April 2, 2013, contest game against Norwin in Murrysville.

The competition in Section 1-AAAA softball is just as difficult as Franklin Regional coach Jim Armstrong expected.

And that's just the way he prefers it.

“This is probably the best section in the WPIAL,” Armstrong said. “We knew going in it was going to be tough, and we think we can match up with anybody.

“I'm happy with where we are. I'm happy to be in this section. It's softball at its best.”

The difference between 2012 and 2013 is clear for the Panthers (6-7, 2-6), who dropped their third straight game with a 9-1 loss to Hempfield on Monday. Franklin Regional won Section 2-AAAA last season, triumphing in 11 of 12 section games and finishing with a 17-3 overall record.

The Panthers started this season hot, winning five of their first seven games. But since section play began, the Panthers are finding it more difficult to win games. Two of the section losses came by one run, and another was by two runs.

“The difference is maybe (by) making one or two mistakes against these teams, you open the door for them and they capitalize on it,” Armstrong said. “Maybe in years past, we could overcome those things. I think that we realize that. We're trying to do our best with it, but you've got to play your best game.”

Armstrong said one of the major issues facing the Panthers is a lack of depth.

Starting third baseman Alexa Fike is out with mononucleosis, leaving sophomore Jessica Sammorone to start in her place. Star pitcher Samantha Johnson graduated after last season, and senior Dana Bacharach has replaced her as the team's top starter.

“We just don't have those other kids to step up,” Armstrong said. “I think that's kind of one of our problems. And I think we're just pressing ourselves. I think we're trying too hard now, and hopefully we can settle down a little bit.”

Armstrong did praise the efforts of senior centerfielder Courtney Roperti and senior catcher Kaelin Jackson, who have stepped up as team leaders.

The Panthers entered the week needing to win and get some help in order to qualify for the playoffs. At 2-6 in the section through Monday, they stood in sixth place — two and a half games behind third-place Norwin for the final playoff spot in the section with four section games remaining.

Franklin Regional was scheduled to host Connellsville on Tuesday, in a game that ended past the deadline for this week's edition. The Panthers will travel to play fourth-place Penn-Trafford at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Armstrong said even if the Panthers miss out on the postseason, he doesn't regret the move to a more competitive section.

“We're going to learn from (this season),” he said. “Our seniors are working really hard at it. We've got a positive attitude about it, and we're just going to play each game one at a time — like we always say.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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