SOUTH LEBANON – There’s a lot to like.
The progress is blatantly obvious.
Brighter days are ahead.
But the Cedar Crest softball team isn’t quite there yet. At least not on this day, it wasn’t.
On a cold, crisp Tuesday afternoon at Cedar Crest Middle School, the Falcons found the sledding tough against perennial heavy Hempfield, and they dropped an 8-0 decision in the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One opener for both sides. Cedar Crest surrendered a four-spot to the Black Knights in the top of the third inning, and just couldn’t seem to solve hard-chucking Hempfield righty Lauren Lichtenwalner.
By the time the dust settled, the Black Knight had out hit the Falcons 12-3.
The result dropped Cedar Crest to 1-2 on the spring. Hempfield improved to 1-1 overall.
“I think we’re a work in progress,” said Cedar Crest head coach Eric Edwards. “I’m really trying to keep the girls focused on one game at a time. I can’t let them look at the big picture. That’s got to be the approach we have.
“We’re at a point right now where we’re going to play three or four games a week,” continued Edwards. “We just need to play better defense. We need to relax and make the routine plays and not shoot ourselves in the foot. In our two losses, that’s been our Achilles’ Heel. If we make those plays, they would’ve been much tighter games.”
Defense was only part of the Falcons’ problem in the Black Knights’ decisive third at-bat.
Hempfield two-hole hitter Kyra Brakefield opened the frame against Falcon senior starter Maddie Gable with a solo home run to right-center field. A Crest misplay of a Knight sacrifice bunt did keep the rally going, before Gabi Turner stroked a two-run single and teammate Marlena Saylor contributed an RBI-grounder to make it 4-0 Hempfield.
“It’s our first league game,” said Edwards. “We want to take every game seriously, but even more so when it’s a section game. When you play a team like Hempfield, you know they’re going to be good. We have to play a solid game to compete.
“Definitely with a quality Section One opponent like Hempfield, you want to keep the game close,” Edwards continued. “We weren’t able to do that. But we didn’t get down on ourselves. We got some runners on base.”
Cedar Crest did have its share of difficulties getting to Lichtenwalner, especially early. Lichtenwalner sat down the first nine Falcons she faced, before lead-off hitter Anna DeBellis opened the bottom of the fourth inning with a single.
The Falcons’ most serious threat came in their fifth at-bat, when Gable reached on an error and Ash Maulfair singled with no outs. But Lichtenwalner wiggled off the hook with a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts.
Lichtenwalner got the win by going the distance, striking out seven and walking none. The Falcons’ only other hit came courtesy of DeBellis, in the sixth.
“I thought we were aggressive at the plate,” said Edwards. “We were putting the ball in play. We were making contact, but we weren’t making that solid of contact. It’s something we have to work on, but we’re making progress.
“She (Lichtenwalner) throws really well,” added Edwards. “She was in the strike zone all night. She had good pop on the ball. She’s quite a talent on the mound.”
Hempfield extended its advantage to 5-0 in the top of the sixth inning. Lexi Harelson doubled with one out and later came around to score on a stolen base and wild pitch.
“We need to stay committed to getting better in every facet of the game,” said Edwards. “I think we’re a better defensive team than we’ve showed.
“I think sometimes we don’t trust in our ability,” continued Edwards. “We play tentative. We’re a young team. We have a handful of sophomores. The game isn’t bigger than it needs to be. We need to play a little more loose.”
Gable finished with three strikeouts and two walks.
“I thought she pitched well tonight,” said Edwards of Gable. “They only really hit a couple of balls hard against her. We didn’t play very well behind her. That can be frustrating when you pitch well and don’t get the support behind you.
“Maddie’s been a great leader for us,” Edwards added. “This is the second year that the girls have voted her captain. She works extremely hard in practice. She’s a fierce competitor.”
The Black Knights put the result out of reach with three runs in the seventh. It began with a single from Kara Cook and a Cedar Crest error, and ended with Daniell Steiner’s RBI, Turner’s run-producing single and Saylor’s RBI-triple.
“By no means are we out of it,” said Edwards. “We feel like we can compete with anyone. We feel we can compete in league play and get to districts. But we’ve got to focus on one game at a time.”
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Section One Standings