Young lineup steps up for Sewickley Academy softball
After it lost close to the entire starting lineup from its section-winning group year ago, much about the Sewickley Academy softball team was unknown, or at least unproven, as the season got started.
Pitching didn't fit this description, with all-section senior Savannah Henry still in the circle. But with only two established batters on the roster, Henry and catcher Chandler White, hitting definitely qualified, according to coach Win Palmer.
“Nobody else had regularly hit in the lineup,” Palmer said.
Fast forward a month, just past the regular season's midpoint, and the Panthers (7-3, 5-1 Section 5-A) have ridden the arm of stalwart Henry along with a surprisingly dominant offense to second place in the section standings.
Sewickley averages a section-best 11.5 runs and has won by mercy rule five times. This explosiveness has caught veteran players off guard.
“I wasn't expecting much from the freshmen this year. Because I thought, ‘Oh, it's going to be a new team. We're going to have to start over again,' ” said White, a junior. “They really stepped up to the plate with all their efforts.”
Henry's rounds of batting practice to the varsity newcomers helped prepare them for the sort of situations they'd face this season, as did instrasquad scrimmages. She and White also have mentored their younger teammates about hitting high school pitching when they struggle. Early on, all of these efforts weren't enough to make up for the team's collective inexperience. The team lost 16-5 to Western Beaver to start the year.
“It was a little difficult at first, but everybody's willing to learn on this team,” White said. “So that makes it a lot easier.”
Outside of game play, the progress made by the players in the time since the preseason has become clear to Palmer through the way players have continued to drive the ball against a 60 mph pitching machine in practice after starting at 40 mph at the beginning of preseason.
White, who bats third, said that players' ability in the batting order doesn't lessen toward the middle or bottom, a balance which Palmer says is intentional, achieved by spacing out the power and contact hitters evenly across the batting order, which has worked for his teams in the past.
“We don't have a dead spot in the lineup,” Palmer said.
Henry, who bats second, said that the younger players' skill on the basepaths has also helped key the team's high scoring, allowing for the team to keep capitalizing on getting there in the first place.
But for all of its offensive success, Sewickley's high level of production has dropped off noticeably in each of the team's three defeats, when they registered five, one and two runs, respectively, in each loss. The first meeting with section-leading Serra Catholic ended 2-1.
White credited such a large scoring decrease in those instances to mental struggles.
“Once a team gets up on us, sometimes the younger girls, they need a confidence boost and sometimes it's not there,” White said. “So then hitting kind of falls off.”
White suggested the positive momentum swings result from active communication and support for one another when struggling.
Jasper Wilson is a freelance writer.