In 2006, Dave Bentz charged himself with the task of returning the Annville-Cleona softball program to its glory days of the 1980s and 1990s. The Little Dutchmen aren’t there yet.
But they’re getting close.
So what did the good old glory days look like? Competing for the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four championship year in and year out, posing a perennial threat to the District Three Class AA title and regularly qualifying for the PIAA playoffs.
Despite losing three key cogs from 2012 – two of whom were four-year starters and program stalwarts – Annville-Cleona is again poised to make a run at its yearly goals. It’s just what top-notch programs do.
“They will give me 100 percent, all the time,” promised Bentz of his troops. “We might have a stinker from time to time, but we’re going to give every team a game. We’re reloading this year, not rebuilding. We can go as far as we did last year, and maybe one step further.
“What I see is a varsity team that might not be huge on numbers,” Bentz continued. “We use the phrase, ‘quality over quantity.’ I like to see kids hustle. I don’t like to see kids walk on and off the field.”
The Little Dutchmen are coming off a campaign in which they finished second in Section Four, were the runners-up in the district and advanced to states. Gone from that 17-7 club are difference-makers Casey Ditzler, Kaylynn McKinney and Kelsey Schubert.
Time to re-tool.
“We accomplished a lot last year,” said Bentz. “We were second in the section and then beat Solanco in the first round of the league playoffs. Then we get into districts and we finally beat Brandywine (Heights), who we seem to play every year. And then we go to states at Bloomsburg, and we still battled right to the end. It was a good run, actually.
While seniors Darian Breenner and Crystall Miller will take over Ditzler and McKinney’s roles as captains, the Little Dutchmen leadership duties will be more divided this season. Juniors Chrisi Lerchen, the staff’s number-one hurler, starting catcher Haley Hirn and shortstop Anique Varela will also be looked to for examples.
“I think we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” said Bentz. “If I don’t see anyone step up, then I will, and they’ll follow me. They listen to what I say. Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe it will. I talked to a couple of players about being leaders, and I’ll do my best to keep them together. We want to win, that’s for sure. If these young kids get some confidence, it’s going to carry them through. We’ll see what happens.
“We’re very young, but we’re not inexperienced young,” Bentz added. “Most of them have been through the tough battles. And because they’re young, we’re enthusiastic. They’re playing very well as a team. Every year I think to myself, ‘Maybe I’ll pack it in, but then I see some of these kids coming up.’ We’re going to battle everyone this year.”
What will keep things interesting and fresh for the Little Dutchmen will be the development of some promising newcomers, a list that includes Delia Burkhard, a senior transfer student from Switzerland, sophomore second sacker Veronica Wampler, sophomore outfielder Mindy Reigle, sophomore first baseperson Christy Snyder, frosh pitcher/infielder Emma Lerchen, Hannah Fischer, a ninth-grader at the hot corner, and sophomore utility Kate Risser.
“The thing I’m most worried about is the confidence thing,” said Bentz. “I have some good hitters, some good ballplayers. But some think they’ve got to be good all the time. A lot of kids, when things don’t go their way, their shoulders drop and they mope a little bit. But that’s where the leadership thing comes in. And I think they all can be leaders.”
The Little Dutchmen will kick off their 2013 spring schedule with home games against a couple of Lebanon County foes. On Friday, March 22nd, the Little Dutchmen will entertain Palmyra, and then on Monday, March 25th, they’ll host Cedar Crest.
“That’s going to happen this week,” said Bentz of Annville-Cleona’s annual goal-setting exercise. “If they (his players) want to set goals, I’d just as soon have them keep it inside of them. The main thing is they all want to win. That’s the only thing I’m worried about. We will talk about goals, but hopefully if somebody doesn’t perform, someone else is going to pick them up. Very few of these girls are going to move on to college, so you have to win.
“I think for us to reach our goals we just have to play as a team,” Bentz continued. “We have to be fundamentally sound, and we have to understand what we’re doing. We just need to go out and play and take care of business.”