SOUTH LEBANON – Is the Cedar Crest softball squad a good team? The jury is sequestered, still out and debating.
It sort of hinges upon who it’s playing. And it also depends on how the Falcons are performing on that particular day.
It may very well be that Cedar Crest is a good team, but just didn’t look like one on Friday afternoon, stacked up against a very good Hempfield bunch. The Falcons committed a couple of softball’s Cardinal Sins, and the Black Knights made them pay for it, to the tune of 7-4.
Some shaky Falcon defense led to extra outs for Hempfield and ultimately translated into an early 7-0 deficit. Though Cedar Crest never stopped coming, they never seriously threatened the Black Knights’ advantage.
The loss officially nixed any Falcon possibilities of a Lancaster-Lebanon Section One championship. At 9-5 overall and 7-5 in the section, Cedar Crest’s shot at finishing second and qualifying for a league playoff spot are slimmer.
A more likely scenario would involve Cedar Crest earning a berth in next month’s District Three Class AAA tournament. Hard-hitting Hempfield, which had beaten CC 5-3 earlier in the season, improved to 14-2 overall and 12-0 in the section.
“I’ve been telling them they’re a good team,” said Falcon manager Jerry Stover of his charges. “But they didn’t play like a good team today. Coming into the season, I thought we had the potential to finish first or second in the section.
“Our goals were to improve because we were really young at the beginning of the season,” added Stover. “I thought we had done that up until today. I think our expectations were to get better as we went along. But we regressed a little bit today.”
A dropped third strike allowed Hempfield’s first hitter of the game to reach base, and it proved to haunt the Falcons the rest of the afternoon. That runner, along with two Black Knight teammates, came around to score on Zoey Schneck’s clutch, two-out three-RBI triple.
“Mentally, we weren’t prepared,” said Stover. “Physically, we were ready. But we should’ve been out of that first inning with no runs. We came in after the first inning and moped around and felt sorry for ourselves. Once we stopped with the mopes, we played pretty well.
“It was a long week and I thought Kayla (starter, Seyfert) was a little arm weary,” Stover continued. “I guess it’s second-guessing myself, but maybe I should’ve started Kayli (relief pitcher Martinez). She shut them down.”
The Black Knights didn’t let up in their second at-bat. Kendall Beck’s triple produced one run and led to another, as Hempfield opened it up to 5-0.
In the top of the third inning, Hempfield tacked on a couple more, as Amber Morris’ two-run single did the trick.
“The significance of the game was playing the number one team in Section One,” said Stover. “We played them tough the first time and out hit them. We’re fighting for a playoff spot, and we’re playing for pride. Beating the top team in the section would’ve been a feather in our cap.
“We went down there (Landisville) and played them tough, but didn’t play well defensively,” Stover added. “That’s what sort of happened today. We play a different first inning and it’s a different game.”
The Falcons got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to the combined efforts of the Katies. Katie Gable singled, stole second and then with two outs, came home on Katie Ford’s sharp single up the middle.
“She did a good job of basically getting ahead and not throwing down the middle,” said Stover of Hempfield starter and winner Madyson Popalis. “There were no meatballs down the middle. And then she teased us with balls that were close (to the strike zone).
“It’s always difficult to play from behind,” Stover continued. “But we showed early in the week we can come back. When we got down against Elizabethtown, we didn’t hang our heads.”
A little two-out magic in the bottom of the sixth got the Falcons one run closer, at 7-2. Ashley Austin walked and Ford knocked her in with a booming triple.
“I think our approach at the plate got better as the game went on,” said Stover. “We weren’t focused at the plate early. It was kind of like ‘Woe is me.’ We were taking two good pitches and then swinging at a bad pitch. That was our approach early.
Cedar Crest pulled to within three runs of the lead in the seventh, but never got the potential tying run to the plate. Back-to-back singles preceded Gable’s two-run triple.
“I guess there’s an outside shot of qualifying for the league playoffs,” said Stover. “But we’d have to win out and get somebody to help us. If we play well, districts is definitely a possibility. We’re probably close to the bubble. We’re kind of playing for a seed there.”