SOFTBALL PREVIEW: Area teams feature talent, experience
There will be plenty of firepower returning for a number of area softball teams this spring, including the reigning player of the year in Jordyn Hemingway at Northern Lehigh and a host of talented players back for a Palmerton team that advanced to the state semifinals a year ago.
Elsewhere, new coaches take over for longtime mentors at Lehighton and Tamaqua. John Zavecz will lead the Indians, while Tony Zancofsky will take the reigns for the Blue Raiders.
… The Olympians lose six seniors from a team that went 5-15 last season, but they do return talent at numerous important positions. “I think we are in a little bit of a rebuild after losing a bunch of seniors, but we have a team and a group of girls that are very hard working. Our goal coming into every season is to qualify for the playoffs, so we will be working hard to accomplish that.” – Jim Thorpe head coach Keith Brinker.
… Melina Schwartz will be counted on to lead Jim Thorpe from the pitching circle. Tara McLean and Amanda Goodchild will also figure into the rotation mix for the Olympians.
... McLean is coming off an impressive season, hitting .400, with 22 hits and 16 RBIs. Schwartz, Goodchild, Allie Skrimcovsky and Oleska McAndrew will also be tough for the Olympians at the plate.
… Thorpe will need its newcomers on the varsity roster to step up and contribute this season. Madison Lordi, Megan Rohrman, Hannah Zacharias, Kaylyn Costello, Isabella Lloyd, Madison Sargent, Makena Scherer and Katreena Bosco will all see time on the field for the Olympians.
… Lehighton returns eight starters this season in Addison Chavanic, Eryn Mertz, Maggie Pagotto, Mia Snyder, Madyson Bergdahl, Anna Laible, Amy Dwojewski, and Abbie Miller, and they are all expected to have impactful seasons for the Indians.
… Miller will serve as Lehighton’s go-to pitcher this season. Snyder, Marlee Craig, Makayla Gaston and Aliyah Nothstein will also see some innings.
HITTING THEIR STRID
E… Lehighton expects to be strong offensively. Pagotto, Laible, Miller, Chavanic, Mertz, Snyder and Dwojewski should all be solid from the plate.
… “As a first-year head coach here at Lehighton, I am trying to bring a new set of ideas to an already established program. I feel with the players we have at this school, there isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t compete for a top-three spot in the league.” - Lehighton head coach John Zavecz.
PLAY IT AGAIN
... Marian has been one of the top teams in its division for quite some time. The Fillies return eight starters to the fold, and are the odds on favorites to win another Division 3 title in the Schuylkill League. The 2022 squad finished 15-7 overall, and secured the divisional title with a 10-3 record.
... Joe DeAngelo enters his 11th season at the helm, and the skipper returns some heavy-duty personnel to the lineup. There is junior pitcher Morgan Kelly (14-6, 185 Ks, 2.37 ERA., .459, 3 HRs), senior Alise Heisey (3B, .359, 2 HRs), senior Jackie Guth (2B, .356, 27 Rs), junior Gracie Gallagher (CF, .280, 16 RBIs), junior Anna Grabosky (C, .310, 18 RBIs), junior Julia Meiss (RF, .308, 16 RBIs), sophomore Katie Barron (OF) and sophomore Delaney Erickson (OF).
... The Fillies will have a bunch of new faces to add depth to what is potentially a strong outfit. Looking for playing time is senior outfielder Jackie Ebert, sophomore first baseman Danica Karlick, sophomore outfielder/catcher Zoe Katona, sophomore outfielder Maddie Kattner, sophomore outfielder/infielder Arlet Perez, freshman outfielder Maggie Homyak, and freshman shortstop Malina Letcher.
... “With a nice mix of returnees, including second team All-State pitcher Morgan Kelly and senior infielders Jackie Guth and Alise Heisey, and some promising newcomers, we are looking to build on last season’s success. Other returnees mentioned above were also important contributors to our success. The goal is to blend the skills of the newcomers with them to give us the best opportunity to succeed.”
… The Bulldogs will be depending on both experience and depth this season. “We just have to be consistent for all seven innings, and utilize our team experience and depth. If we play fundamental softball in all phases, I think this team will be able to play with anyone.” - Northern Lehigh head coach Kate Farber.
… Northern Lehigh ace Emma Smith will be heavily depended on to lead the Bulldogs in the pitching department.
… Jordyn Hemingway – the reigning Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Softball Player of the Year - along with Cadence Peters and Kaitlyn Stock will all be expected to put together strong seasons at the plate for Northern Lehigh.
UP AND COMING
… Although team experience will be key for Northern Lehigh, it will also need newcomer Kylee Snyder to come in and contribute this season.
WORK TO DO
... Shortstop Morgan Farthing (8 HRs, 34 RBIs, .481 AVG), first baseman Izzy Teprovich (2 HRs, 15 RBIs, .341 AVG), catcher Olivia Stofflet (1 HR, 20 RBIs, .423 AVG), and pitcher Brynn Balliet (12-2, 2.60 ERA., 5 HRs, 20 RBIs, .413 AVG) all graduated last spring and left behind some job openings. The Tigers - 18-5 last season - reached the finals in both the Colonial League and district playoffs after winning their first league title in 15 years in 2021. “Those seniors were a successful group of players, but we have some good young players, and the cupboard isn’t bare,” said head coach Josh Zimmerman, who enters his 10th season at the helm of the team.
... Third baseman Marissa Christman (3 HRs, 32 RBIs, .452 AVG) is more than just a big bat, as she plays well defensively at third base for the Tigers and is entering her senior season. As good and as valuable as she is at third, Christman has a not-so-secret desire. “I want to pitch; at least an inning,” said Christman with a broad smile. Zimmerman may acquiesce at some point, but there is no way he would consider a permanent or even occasional move off the hot corner. “We’ll see what happens,” said Zimmerman with a smile.
NOT STAYING PUT
... Second baseman Izzy Akelaitis teamed with shortstop Farthing to give Northwestern a strong middle infield the past couple seasons. This year, Akelaitis will see at least some time at shortstop because of her range and defensive abilities. “We’ve been working together, and we communicate very well,” said Chrisman of Akelaitis. “She sees the field well and has good range, so it should work out to make us strong on the left side.”
... Last season, Quinn Conrey moved from second base to right field. With Akelaitis going to short, Zimmerman could have moved Conrey back to the infield, but considers her to be among the best right fielders in the league and elected to keep her in the outfield because of her defense. Meanwhile, speedy sophomore Rylee McGinley will be in center field, with junior Sage Toman moving behind the plate. “I was okay with moving out there, and I enjoy playing in right field now,” said Conrey. “I’ve built up my confidence a lot defensively and this year, I am hoping to build up my offense.”
IN THE CIRCLE
... Peyton Neumoyer saw some time in relief of Balliet last season as a sophomore and posted a 4.55 ERA in nine appearances. The experience was valuable, and she will be looked at to increase her role this season with freshmen Emma Freeman and Lizzie Diehl both in line for some opportunities. Neumoyer started Friday at Tamaqua and pitched three innings before she gave way to Freeman, who got the win in the 13-3 game.
BACK TO STATES
... The Bombers are looking to qualify for the PIAA state tournament for the third consecutive season. Palmerton won the District 11 3A championship two seasons ago, and last season at 17-10 was able to get into the state tournament as the district runner-up and advanced all the way to the state semifinals – which is the farthest the Bombers have advanced in program history.
BACK IN THE CIRCLE
... Junior ace Carly Gaffney returns after two years starting in the circle for the Bombers. Gaffney pitched 170 innings and finished with a 2.55 ERA and 180 strikeouts in her sophomore campaign. Freshman Haley Barry will back-up Gaffney this season and is expected to throw some innings this season.
... Palmerton returns a host of talented players, led by its only senior in Kelsey Balliet. Megan Matsko led the team with a .397 batting average last season and returns as well. Sydney Frantz, Madison Green, Emily Christopher, Caty Munjone, Haley Delgado and Ashlynn Anthony all return to form a strong nucleus for this season’s Bombers’ squad.
AT THE PLATE
... Palmerton is a team that will be looking to find the gaps and use smart base-running to bring runs across consistently. “We have a lot of experienced and smart softball players, and that is going to pay dividends for us on the bases. We’re not going to look for the home run-type ball this season, but we do have some players that can hit the ball a pretty long way, but I would say our focus will be finding the gaps and just getting the bat on the ball. I think we could have a very productive offense this season.” - Palmerton head coach Robert Hock.
… Panther Valley is coming into this season as a young team, but it does possess good numbers and a good team culture. “We are looking to improve from a 3-17 season, and we have 18 girls in the program that are working hard to do just that. We have 18 girls in our program right now, and we do not have one senior on the team. I think if we can do a better job of winning the close games, we will be in a nice position. I love our team culture and the dedications from this group.” – Panther Valley head coach Tara Yuricheck.
… Mikayla Yuricheck, Lucy Greco, Morgan O’Brien, Morgan Orsulak and Ava Alabovitz will all see time in the pitching circle this season for the Panthers.
… Yuricheck was tough at the plate last season, hitting .466 with 17 stolen bases. O’Brien also figures to do some damage after leading the team in home runs a season ago. Greco, Kaidence Krapf, Kyla McQuillen, and Myle Krapf all return as well after gaining significant experience at the plate last season.
… The Panthers have a trio of freshman that are expected to make an immediate impact on the field, as Alabovitz, Orsulak and Caroline Bresline are all expected to contribute.
... Pleasant Valley got off to a 2-7 start last season, but rebounded nicely to finish the year 9-2. Head coach Steve Caffrey wants to build off the momentum from the second half of last season. “Last year, we were able to rebound a little bit,” Caffrey said. “We’re looking forward to competing for our division. We haven’t been able to do that for the last five or six years.”
... The Bears didn’t lose much over the offseason, as 11 of the 13 girls on last year’s squad return. PV lost Emilee Roberti to graduation, but the Bears will be locked and loaded for this season. Sam Ratti returns behind the plate and should be an offensive force. The infield is pretty much set. Brianca Pridham handles first base, Hailey Krock is at second, Jovie Valenzuela will be at short and Danica Getz handles the hot corner. Valenzuela had some big moments during last season as a freshman, and hopes to take the Bears deep into the playoffs with all of the offensive weapons the team has. Aryn Stivala will play left field, followed by Lydia Borger in center and Allison Borger in right.
IMPROVING EVERY DAY
... The second half of last season may serve as a stepping stone for this year, but Caffrey hopes to compete more with the Lehigh Valley teams. “We were able to pretty much pick up where we left off last year,” Caffrey said. “We’re hoping things go in our favor a little bit this year, better than last year. We still have a young group, which is pretty aggressive yet. Hopefully, that’ll carry some momentum for us.”
... After facing two Eastern Pennsylvania Conference North opponents (East Stroudsburg South and Pocono Mountain East) to start the season, PV will then play three Lehigh Valley teams to wrap up the month of March. A return to EPC North opponents occurs in early April. The EPC is expected to be strong once again, and the Bears seem like a legitimate threat to take home a conference title and get deeper into districts.
NEW COACH IN CHARGE
...Tony Zancofsky takes over for the very successful Jillian Barron, who stepped aside. Barron led the team to a District 11 Class 4A semifinal appearance last season.
WHAT TO EXPECT
... The Blue Raiders finished 7-7 in Division 1 of the Schuylkill League and were 9-13 overall last season. With five starters returning, the big void will be in the circle. Bryn Clifford graduated and was the ace during her career.
... The Raiders will rely on a pair of seniors to lead the club in Megan Lavine (first base/outfield) and Hailey Williams (third base/outfield). Sophomore catcher Maddison Krall, and fellow classmates Kolbe Robb (second base) and Leah Crowley, who figure to inherit most of the pitching duties.
YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
...Tamaqua will need to blend in youth, and with only three seniors, it will need to mature quickly to compete with some of the top-notch Division 1 teams, which feature the always tough North Schuylkill, Blue Mountain, Pine Grove and Pottsville squads.
A GOOD BLEND
... Since William Bartel has taken over the reigns at the smallest school in the Schuylkill League - and one of the smallest in the state - the Wreckers have been on a steady upswing. This season could be a huge one, if things stay the course.
... The Wreckers return one of the more outstanding players in the entire league in senior pitcher Madisyn vonFrisch. She has been consistent throughout her career, and now in her final bow, will be the catalyst once again before she heads to King’s College upon graduation.
... While vonFrisch is certainly the focal point in the circle, Kelly Michaels - a senior infielder/pitcher - brings her steady bat and superb defensive skills to the club. Add in senior outfielder Adrian Dotzel to the lineup, and the Wreckers have something to build upon for 2023.
KEEPING AN EYE ON
... Bartel’s club welcomes a few other potential candidates to the lineup, including junior infielder/outfielder Juliette Bartel, who has improved her game in the offseason both defensively and at the plate. Veteran senior catcher Raynessa Paulino-Diaz will also be important as the backstop to the pitching core. At first base, junior Anna Bloom should be ready for a big season as well.
SKIPPER IS GLOWING
... Being a 2022 District 11 playoff qualifier should be a big confidence boost, says Bartel. “We expect to challenge for our division and qualify for district playoffs. We know it will be tough given the high-quality softball in our district, but the girls will battle. Madisyn will give us a chance against anyone, so they will have to do their part to achieve our goals.”
(Compiled by Brad Hurley, Chuck Hixson, Sam Matta, Kyle Magda)