Opening-round loss doesn't discourage Sewickley Academy softball team
As baseball legend Yogi Berra might say, it was déjà vu all over again for the Sewickley Academy softball team.
For the second straight year, the Panthers were eliminated in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. This year's defeat came at the hands of Jeannette, 11-5 in eight innings last Thursday at Plum High School.
After playing to a 5-5 tie through seven innings, Jeannette pushed six runs across in the top of the eighth, and Sewickley Academy was unable to answer in the bottom of the inning.
Savannah Henry, the Panthers' freshman pitcher, blanked Jeannette for the first four innings and finished the game with seven strikeouts.
Sewickley Academy notched a total of eight hits in the game, three by sophomore Sarah Manzinger and two by sophomore Katie Maloney.
One of Manzinger's hits came in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied. She promptly stole second, but the Panthers were unable to get her home.
Jeannette followed with a six-run rally in the top of the eighth to put the game out of reach.
“We had them on the ropes a couple of times,” coach Win Palmer said. “The girls did a terrific job. They played with a lot of confidence.
“They played a tremendous game.”
The Panthers finished the 2013 campaign with a record of 9-8.
Having only fielded a varsity team since 2009, the Panthers have made their mark in WPIAL competition with back-to-back playoff appearances.
In 2012, Sewickley Academy qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in school history, dropping a 3-1 decision to Shenango in its inaugural postseason contest.
The outlook for next season is bright, as Palmer will only be losing two seniors — shortstop Camdin Bartholomew and left fielder Laura Gedeon — to graduation. The rest of the starting lineup will be back and will be bolstered by the return of Kat Goebbel, who missed the majority of this season after suffering a broken finger in the first game of the year.
Goebbel could return to third base or take over for Bartholomew at shortstop in 2014.
“We're fortunate to have Kat coming back,” Palmer said. “She's a terrific player.”
Several players will compete for the open spot in left field next season.
After a slow start to the season, young hurler Henry settled in to her role as the Panthers' No. 1 pitcher and helped her team post eight wins in a 10-game stretch from April 12 through May 2. Four of those victories were shutouts.
With no realignment on the horizon, Section 1-A will feature the same group of teams next season as Sewickley Academy faced this year.But despite still having to play the likes of tough foes such as Sto-Rox, Burgettstown and Bishop Canevin, Palmer is looking forward to his team taking the next step in 2014.
“There are a lot of good teams in our section,” Palmer said. “It won't be easy, but our goal is to step up and compete for a section championship.”
In order to do that, Palmer and his coaching staff will be holding individual meetings with the returning players and formulating an offseason workout program.
“Some of them play on travel teams, but we want to get them into the fitness center,” Palmer said. “They need to strengthen their arms and increase bat speed.”
Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.