By Lisa Byers
Saegertown is supposed to win Region 3, defend its District 10 Class A title and exceed last year’s run to the PIAA state quarterfinals.
Those are the expectations of the Lady Panthers’ talent-rich softball team this season. And, so far, Saegertown has done little to disappoint.
But the Lady Panthers — at 5-2 on the season — are far from content going into today’s Region 3 opener with Maplewood. There is still plenty of room for improvement particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Saegertown picked up that fifth win of the season on Monday. The Panthers defeated General McLane 8-4 at Bertram Field, but committed four errors along the way.
So far this season, the Panthers have a total of 22 fielding errors. They finished the 2012 campaign with just 34 total.
“We’ve got some growing pains in the infield,” Saegertown coach Mark McKissock said. “We’re happy with the outfield. We have a little bit of work to do out there. But the infield …”
Despite boasting a number of returning players, the Panthers did take a hit in the infield due to graduation. In fact, only the catcher (Rachel DiBartolomeo) and pitcher (Arianna Hanley) are the same. And only Elizabeth Lilly, who has moved from second base to first, started for the Panthers last season.
Third baseman McKenna Morian was at Conneaut Lake last season. Second baseman Lexi Palmer was at Linesville a year ago. And Becca Siple — at shortstop — is just a freshman.
“If you get right down to it, we have three new infielders,” McKissock said, “and one who is playing a new position and doing so quite well I must add. We have some growing pains and we’re not so sure we have everyone where they need to be right now.”
The team is aware that changes — performance-wise — need to be made. And they are confident that will happen.
“We’re making early season mistakes,” DiBartolomeo said. “Stupid mistakes. We’re still coming together. But it’s coming.”
Through it all, though, the Panthers are 5-2 and have played a pretty tough schedule thus far. On Thursday, they played their first error-free game of the season and routed Sharpsville 16-4 in five innings in a rematch of last year’s District 10 title game.
Then came yesterday’s win over Class AA General McLane, which was far from easy against a quality pitcher like Erica Suprynowicz and the bat of Kyra Piotrowski.
In fact, it was the Lancers who made noise first. General McLane scored two runs in the first inning on RBI singles by Katie Clark and Piotrowski.
But Lexi Palmer singled home Arianna Hanley in the bottom half of the inning and the Panthers added three unearned runs in the second inning to take a 4-1 lead. The Lancers did respond with a run in the third inning. But, again, Saegertown answered with two more in the bottom half of the inning to take a 6-3 advantage.
The Panthers added a pair of insurance runs in the sixth. Siple led off the inning with an inside-the-park home run. DiBartolomeo followed with a shot over the center field fence that landed in the bed of a pickup truck.
The Lancers tacked on a run in the seventh, but it wasn’t enough.
Hanley picked up the win on the mound. She pitched all seven innings allowing four runs on nine hits. All four runs were unearned. She struck out three and walked one.
Suprynowicz went all six for the Lancers and allowed eight runs on seven hits. Three of her runs were earned. She walked two and struck out two. Piotrowksi finished 4-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs.
The Panthers play host to Maplewood today at Bertram Field to open region play. Saegertown split with the Tigers a year ago in its run to the Region 3 title, which it shared with Cochranton.
It’s now go time.
“As much as we were in Florida and that stuff, there are still a lot of things we need to solidify,” McKissock said. “We’re doing OK. But this is a big week for us. We have Maplewood (today) and then Cambridge on Thursday.
“We lost to both of those teams back-to-back last year.”