ANNVILLE – There’s only one thing worse than expectations, and that’s pre-season expectations. Where we seem to get ourselves into trouble is trying to predict future events based on what has happened in the past.
Given that conventional thinking, not too many could’ve foreseen what transpired during the season-opening scholastic softball tilt between up-and-coming Palmyra and well-established Annville-Cleona.
On a windy and cold Saturday afternoon at A-CHS, the inexperienced Cougars stunned the veteran Little Dutchmen 8-5. After Annville-Cleona had erased a 5-1 deficit, Palmyra batted around and pieced together a decisive three-run rally in the top of the fifth inning.
The contest was the first of the season for a Palmyra club which hasn’t qualified for the postseason in recent memory and was coming off a 3-15 2012 campaign. Annville-Cleona, which made an appearance in three different playoff tournaments last season, went 17-7 a year ago.
So much for preseason expectations.
“I don’t know if Annville-Cleona is surprised,” said Palmyra head coach Kathy Wicker. “We’ve been working hard for this. Mentally, it doesn’t matter who we play. In softball, any team on any given day, can win. This team is very close. They do a lot of things together.
“We play rec ball against them (the Little Dutchmen),” Wicker continued. “Our kids have played against a lot of them. I’ve seen some of them grow up. It’s nice to know what you’re going up against. But I still play the game and I don’t ever over-analyze. If you get too mental about a team, it doesn’t matter who did what last year.”
“We didn’t hit against a kid who threw all straight stuff,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Dave Bentz of Cougar hurler Cat Wicker. “We looked inferior. We looked like a deer in headlights. We should have hitters up and down our lineup.
“When you can’t hit or get good swings off a kid, that’s a concern,” Bentz added. “We should’ve had a better offensive display. This is a game we probably should’ve won if we played our game.”
After Annville-Cleona had just tied the game at five a half-inning prior, Cougar eight-hole hitter Morgan Bucks gave her team the lead for good with a two-out single in the fifth. Two batters later, teammate Hannah Phillippy made it a three-run Palmyra advantage.
Also included in the Cougars’ winning rally against A-C starter Chrisi Lerchen were two errors and a walk.
“Offensively, they did well for a season opener,” said Wicker of her troops. “I don’t like to play a lot of small ball. I want them all to be hitters. I feel confident that it’s a good start. To see some live pitching was good. All in all, I’m extremely proud of them. When you have confidence and you start believing, this is the result.
“This is my first season-opening win.” added Wicker. “It’s been a long time since we’ve won one. He (Palmyra AD Brian Weidler) put that in my head this morning.”
“They played the game,” said Bentz of the Cougars. “They hit the ball. They made the plays. They came ready to play. They did the things you need to do to be successful, and we didn’t.
“I expected a better effort,” Bentz added. “But we’ve got a lot of head-hangers. That’s another thing I don’t understand. But that’s where the leadership comes in.”
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Annville-Cleona got RBIs from four of the top five hitters in its lineup to tie the score. Mindy Reigle and Vernoica Wampler got things started with a single and a walk, before C. Lerchen, Anique Varela, Haley Hirn and Christy Snyder drove home runs.
“Last year we were young,” said Wicker. “We were going through some games just to play seven innings. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on them (her players). It was a rebuilding year, and it’s still a rebuilding year. But we’ve got to do it together.”
“We didn’t come ready to play,” said Bentz. “I’m not worried about it. It’s the first game. But they’re (his players) going to hear it from me. I’m going to be in their faces.
“I talked about leadership in the pre-season,” continued Bentz. “Right now, there is no leadership. How do you teach leadership? It’s instilled inside of you. We need to find a rah-rah guy.”
Palmyra broke open a scoreless game in the top of the third, when it plated three runs. A Little Dutchmen throwing error opened the gates for a pair of Cougar runs, then Kailey Werkheiser followed with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center.
The Little Dutchmen got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame, courtesy of Snyder’s two-out RBI-safety.
“She pitched well,” said Wicker of her daughter and starter, Cat. “She’s ultimately going to gain momentum as the season goes on. She was working on all of her pitches, and she was hitting her spots. This was the first time that Cat’s spikes have been in the dirt this spring.
“The team voted on coaches,” continued Wicker, “and she’s one of the ones who was chosen. She’s pretty vocal.’
“We had four runs in one inning and one in another,” said Bentz. “What happened in the other five innings? We’re just weak through the zone. And our infield is slow. We’ll get through it. But some of it was positioning.”
In the fourth, the Cougars added two runs to their 3-1 lead. Kayla Bonawitz ripped an RBI-double and Wicker plated her with a single.
In all, Palmyra counted 11 safeties.
“Their goal is to make the postseason and be the team that all of a success is there,” said Wicker of her players. “My goal is to get them to be productive, and get them to do everything we ask them to do. I want them to succeed. I want them to get what they want.
“They just need to do everything we’re asking them to do,” added Wicker. “Work hard, that’s what we need them to do.”
“I’d say she threw OK,” said Bentz of C. Lerchen. “I don’t think she was nearly in mid-season form. Palmyra was laying on her fastball. She needs to work on moving her pitches around. It’s something we’ll get into.
“I knew absolutely nothing about them (the Cougars),” Bentz added. “But they made the plays. They moved some runners, and their pitcher threw strikes.”
Cougars Phillippy, Bucks and Ciera Suggs collected a pair of hits apiece. Seven different Palmyra players drove home runs.
For Annville-Cleona, catcher Hirn went three-for-three with a walk and Snyder contributed a couple of knocks.
“I will say that I’m not set with all of my positions,” said Wicker. “We’ve only been on the field two times. We can do a lot of things. Right now we’re just trying to do what’s best for then team.”