Franklin Regional learns from difficult season
The 2013 softball season turned out to be a learning experience in several ways for the Franklin Regional softball team.
In their first season in the tougher Section 1-AAAA, the Panthers broke in several new starters — including a completely new pitching staff. Those factors helped contribute to the team's 7-11 record this season, which included a 2-10 mark in the section.
The Panthers' eight-year postseason streak ended this season as a result of the team's struggles, which culminated in a seven-game losing streak toward the end of the season.
However, coach Jim Armstrong said the team was more competitive than its record shows, as the Panthers lost three section games by one run and another by two runs.
“It seemed like we were right there in these games, and there was one or two innings in the games (where) we committing a lot of errors,” he said. “People were hitting us pretty good, and we were committing errors, so that's a bad combination. And I think it just started to go downhill from there.”
Armstrong said he had a good feeling about the team heading into the season, and Franklin Regional began the year by winning five of its first seven games. A 12-3 loss to Latrobe on April 9 began a string where the Panthers dropped nine of their final 11 games, including their last seven section contests.
Despite the losses, Armstrong said the team never quit — particularly as the team remained alive for playoff contention until the season's final weeks.
“We always felt we had a chance (to make the playoffs), until mathematically it was inevitable that you're not there,” Armstrong said. “That's a big deal for us.”
After the graduation of pitcher Samantha Johnson, who led Franklin Regional to a 17-3 finish last season, the Panthers turned to a first-year varsity pitcher, Dana Bacharach, this season. Bacharach was backed up by freshman Cara Markowitz.
“That is not a real good combination sometimes,” Armstrong said of the inexperienced pitching. “We have some kids that were just first-year varsity players, and we were young.”
Armstrong said the team had good leadership in first baseman Nicole Berardinelli, catcher Kaelin Jackson and centerfielder Courtney Roperti — all seniors. Roperti led the team with a .551 batting average and had 13 runs batted in, while Jackson contributed a .465 batting average and 15 RBIs.
However, a lack of depth hurt the Panthers, particularly when third baseman Alexa Fike went down with mononucleosis during the season. With a 15-player varsity roster, Franklin Regional didn't have the numbers of many of its section rivals.
“When Hempfield was warming up, they were three deep at every position warming up,” Armstrong said. “I've got one kid at (shortstop), one kid at second — it's nuts. (But) we've got to keep trying and working hard, that's all. We can't pick where we're at. We are where we are, and we have to do the best we can with it.”
Despite some of the competitive disadvantages, Armstrong said he still likes being in Section 1 and is already looking forward to next season. With several spots opening up because of graduation, Armstrong said there will likely be a “free-for-all” among returning and incoming players battling for playing time.
“Basically, I'm starting with fresh kids, and I hope they're hungry and want to work hard at it,” he said.
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.