By Lisa Byers
LISA BYERS/Meadville Tribune
One of the most important parts of a softball or baseball game comes before a single pitch has even been thrown.
That moment comes when the opposing teams’ coaches and captains gather at home plate for the coin flip.
To most anyone in the softball or baseball world, being the home team and having the final at-bat in a game is important. Winning the toss is huge.
But when that coin hits the ground and lands in favor of the Saegertown softball team, its captains, with no hesitation, elect to be the visiting team.
There is a method to the Panthers’ madness: Jump on a team early and win every inning thereafter. And with a player like Arianna Hanley on your squad, the odds are generally in your favor.
You see, Hanley proved to be one of the toughest outs in the area this season. The No. 2 batter had the third-highest batting average in The Meadville Tribune’s coverage area at .521 and played a role in at least 64 of the Panthers’ 171 runs. That’s 37.4 percent. And that doesn’t include the runners she moved into scoring position for Jaricka Simmerman, who finished with 20 RBIs, or Lexi Palmer, who had 25 RBIs on the season, thanks in part to her six sacrifice bunts.
She made things happen for the Lady Panthers offensively, and then did her thing on the mound to give her team a chance to win. The result was a second straight District 10 Class A title and Region 3 championship.
She was such a valuable player for Saegertown that she was a clear choice for this year’s pick for The Meadville Tribune Softball Player of the Year.
“Coach (Mark) McKissock has been really helping me out with my swing,” said Hanley, who batted .402 a year ago with four less RBIs in 16 more at-bats. Her on-base-percentage was also up .058 points this year from .542 to .600.
“But it really all comes down to Rachel (DiBartolomeo) getting on base. She gets on base and then my focus is on putting the ball in play because I know she will score.
“It’s all up to my team getting on base and doing their job. A lot of the credit goes to them.”
The thing is, not only is Hanley a tough out at the plate, she’s perhaps an even tougher out on the base paths, which McKissock said may set her apart from any other player.
“Athletically, she’s like a cat,” McKissock said. “Her reflexes, her twitch muscles are out of sight. Any lack in skill she makes up with quickness and athletic ability. Kids like that come around once in a long while.”
And it is those “non-teachable” things that set Hanley apart from a lot of other athletes. In fact, one of her best attributes, particularly as a pitcher, is her strongmindedness. She is unflappable.
“I think that mainly comes from my dad,” Hanley said. “He’s been a coach ever since I was little and taught me it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you have to stay positive and let everything negative go. It doesn’t matter if you are on a really good team or a bad team, you stay the same player.
“If things aren’t going your way you just have to keep your mind straight.”
Which attribute is Hanley most proud of: athletic ability or emotional strength?
“Kind of both,” she said. “I’m glad to be the person that I am and proud of the person my coaches and team have formed me into. They have all helped me to become the person I am today.”
Hanley, who also had an admirable season on the mound, finishing with a 16-3 record and 2.24 earned run average with 53 strikeouts and 23 walks, will attend Slippery Rock University in the fall. Hanley said she is planning on trying out for the softball team there in September.