PALMYRA – There were aspects of the Palmyra softball program that were broken, and in need of healing. There were other parts of it that were sound and healthy.
The current crop of Cougars is charged with the task of sorting the good from the bad, purging the negatives and building upon the positives.
On Tuesday afternoon at Palmyra High School, the Cougars’ recovery took another step in the right direction, as they walloped Harrisburg High 12-0 in a Mid-Penn Keystone Division affair shortened to five innings by the mercy rule. Behind a strong outing from first-year senior Mikayla Bomgarder, Palmyra scored in each of its four at-bats and methodically brought the ten-run rule into play.
Palmyra, which is a season removed from the controversial dismissal of former head coach Kathy Wicker, improved to 3-3 on the spring, as well as 3-3 within the division. Harrisburg plummeted to 0-6 overall and 0-6 in the Keystone.
“I don’t know what the culture was before I was here,” said Tod Whitman, the Cougars’ first-year head coach. “I really didn’t know that much about the program. I know they’ve been around .500 the last three or four years. I think there’s enough talent and skill to be better than .500. We have aspirations to be at the top of our division. A lot of it is me learning them (his players). Returning coaches know their players. I’m still not sure if we’ve got the right mix. But I like where we’re at with it. The kids are upbeat. They’re making mistakes that are typical.
“I stepped into a good situation,” continued Whitman. “Obviously (shortstop) Kayla Bonawitz is our star. And with her and Kailey Werkehiser, we have two really good seniors. Mik (Bomgarder) hadn’t played with us before, but she also brings elements of leadership. We’ve got a boat load of juniors and sophomores, and there’s talent there. As a program, the goal is to build depth. We have a huge roster and those kids are pushing the starters, and that’s a good thing. I’m excited about what the future holds.”
On this day, it took some time for the Cougars to adjust to Harrisburg pitching that was slower than fast. But once Palmyra found its groove, it really got busy.
Palmyra staked Bomgarder to a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the first inning, thanks to two-out RBI base knocks from Werkheiser and Bomgarder. A Harrisburg error and a walk drawn by Rebecca Randall helped the Cougars along.
The Cougars made it 3-0 a frame later, when Payge Coburn and Bonawitz cranked back-to-back, two-out doubles.
“You’ve got to back down your expectations,” said Whitman of his club’s approach to hitting. “Speed is the same as location. The kids see slow pitching and they think they can swing harder or hit it farther. But you can get in trouble. The approach shouldn’t change. We’ve got a young team and they’re getting introduced to some of this. The goal was to get the ball to the outfield and stop hitting ground balls.
“We want to be aggressive (on the base paths),” Whitman continued. “But they (Harrisburg) made the plays. I think I got three runners thrown out. At the plate, it was adjustments. We need to get better, and not just this game. It’s adjustments to pitching, whether it’s speed or location.”
Bomgarder, a wind-milling right-hander, was on top of her game, but not overpowering. During her five innings within the circle, she yielded three hits and four walks, and struck out four.
Bomgarder did not enjoy a one-two-three inning.
“We’ve been working hard with Mik to get first-pitch strikes,” said Whitman. “Last game she was at 76 percent, and I’d bet that today that was higher. It’s great for her confidence, and it sets up her other pitches.
“I have a style that may or may not be different,” added Whitman. “They’re (his players) adjusting. My joke is that I want to be able to go and sit in the bleachers and watch them play. Players tend to make better decisions than coaches. That’s the culture I’m trying to create, without knowing what it was like before I got here. I want the long-term with these guys.”
Palmyra scored three times in the bottom of the third inning to make it a 6-0 game.
The Cougars loaded the bases on a single by Werkheiser and walks to Abbey Krahling and Randall. All three came around to score, courtesy of Sara Boyer’s RBI-fielder’s choice, Bomgarder’s run-scoring grounder and Meagan Quigley’s sacrifice fly.
“It’s going. It’s going,” said Whitman. “It’s always a work in progress. Games like this are sometimes difficult. I thought the girls had focus for most of the game. But we didn’t make adjustments at the plate until the fourth inning. The defense was good. And Mik threw a good game.”
Palmyra broke the game wide open in its fourth at-bat. The Cougars sent 11 batters to the dish and scored six runs on four hits and three Harrisburg errors.
The rally was highlighted by Boyer’s three-run triple.
“If my goal is to make districts, we’ve got to play better than .500,” said Whitman. “If you look at our schedule, we’ve got to sweep some teams. I do feel like it’s realistic. I expect that we can sweep some teams. I know the talent we have. I’ve seen what we can do.
“I’m anxious for the media to understand there’s a culture being created that’s positive,” concluded Whitman. “Our motto is: ‘Pride, passion and hard work’. I want them (his players) to have passion. I want them to have the same passion I have.”
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