ELIZABETHTOWN – In scholastic softball, not unlike modern warfare, programs first dispatch scout teams, before fully committing equipment, manpower and resources. Their assignment is to explore, collect data and report back to headquarters.
Though yesterday’s clandestine mission didn’t look like much from the outside, the Palmyra Cougars laid the groundwork for future postseason invasions.
On Tuesday evening at Elizabethtown Community Park, Palmyra dropped a 7-0 decision to Manheim Central in its first foray into the District Three Class AAA playoffs in a number of years. While the young Cougars’ performance could almost assuredly be linked to a lack of experience, it is almost as certain that they will do better the next time they qualify.
The Palmyra offense was limited to two hits by Manhiem Central starter Sara McGee, and both came in the top of the sixth inning, after the Barons has opened a seven-run lead. After notching a single run in the first and a deuce in the third, the Barons batted around, scored four times in the bottom of the fifth and broke the outcome wide open.
Manheim Central three-hole hitter Aericka High went three-for-three with four RBIs.
With the loss, Palmyra, which went 3-14 in 2012, concluded its spring 11-10 overall. Manheim Central, the fifth seed and defending District Three Class AAA champion, improved to 18-4 on the year.
“Honestly, we wanted to beat last year’s record,” said Palmyra head coach Kathy Wicker. “They (her players) did that right off the bat. The future looks bright. We definitely needed to be here. We’re getting better. It’s all about the progression.
“That’s what we said to the girls,” continued Wicker. “This (districts) is what we’re working for at the start of next year.”
Palmyra wasn’t totally over matched by the Barons. But as the game wore on, more and more it looked that way.
High’s two-out triple in the bottom of the first preceded the wild pitch that got the Barons on the board. In the third, Central’s first two batters against Palmyra sophomore starter Cat Wicker reached, and High brought them both in with a single to left.
“She was throwing hard, and most of the time she was throwing well,” said Wicker of her right-handed daughter. “We knew she (High) was the strong one in their lineup. She’s a very good hitter.
“It’s not the outcome we expected,” added Wicker. “Defensively they (her players) were on, except for a few things. But we were disappointed with the way we swung the bats.”
McGee took a no-hitter into the sixth, before Palmyra’s Hannah Phillippy singled to right with one out, and Kayla Bonawitz singled to third an out later. McGee went the distance for the win, fanned 11 and walked two.
“We were trying to stay off the ball coming up, and we didn’t,” said Wicker of her team’s approach to hitting. “And they didn’t swing at balls that didn’t rise. She (McGee) had a rise and a change-up.
“We prepared them (her players) by talking about it (the playoff atmosphere),” Wicker continued. “We have kids who play travel ball. I didn’t feel like they were nervous. But when they got into that (batter’s) box, they weren’t confident. They didn’t show it.”
A walk and a single ignited Manheim Central’s clinching rally in the fifth. High stroked another two-run single, while another Baron run came around on a Cougar error.
“The team didn’t know anything about them,” said Wicker of the Barons’ pedigree. “I didn’t tell them. I didn’t want that to get into their heads.”
Cat Wicker surrendered nine hits, struck out three and walked three.
“That’s when you’ve got to come down to the level where they’re at,” said Wicker of the difference between her competitive nature and her team’s. “In the big scheme of things, our seniors have come such a long way.
“We’ll be back next year,” added Wicker. “I mean we hope to be here next year.”