MILLERSTOWN - They're back again.
Don't look now but the Greenwood Wildcats have once again reached the state playoffs following a district title.
Coming off its fourth consecutive District 3 Class A title, Greenwood will hit the road and make the long trek to Betzler Field at the King's College Sports Complex in Wilkes-Barre to square off against District 2 champion Northwest this afternoon in the first round of the PIAA Class A softball championships.
As winners of the Tri-Valley League title once again in 2012, the Wildcats come in with a record of 14-5 behind some strong defense and a pair of solid pitchers.
The road for Greenwood to the state playoffs was a much shorter one than Northwest had. Greenwood was challenged to win only one game in the District 3 bracket - a 4-3 win over Millersburg - to notch a spot in the state bracket.
The Rangers, on the other hand, rolled through the District 2 bracket with wins over Old Forge (5-1) and Blue Ridge (4-1). Northwest had a bye in the first round of districts as the top seed. It was the first time in school history that Northwest one a district title in softball.
Greenwood make it to this round of states a year ago only to fall to Old Forge 5-3.
"I expect to see a solid team out of Northwest," Greenwood coach Troy Gantt said. "We got a district champ out of a strong district and we'll have to play well."
Jess Heichel has led Greenwood down the stretch in the circle toward the latter half of the season. Gantt said he is going to ride her arm to get past Northwest.
"She's been pitching well and she's the one that's got us to this point so she's going to go," he said. There is no reason to change it at this point."
Whoever is on the mound for the Wildcats will be faced with a tough task to slow this Ranger offense. Northwest finished the season 14-3 while playing mostly Class AA and AAA teams. They have a 12-2 mark in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
This game may prove to be a pitcher's duel all the way to the seventh inning. Players like Greenwood's A.J. Seigel and Salene Shaffer may try their hand and reaching base any way they can. With that, Greenwood can get runners in scoring position.
The same goes for Northwest.
The Rangers' lineup is chalked full of players capable to swiping a bag at any point and can certainly put up some offensive numbers. Greenwood also has the capability.
In 17 games this season, the Rangers have scored 153 runs and allowed only 41. For the past several years Northwest has been an afterthought in District 2 play. But this season the team relys on a heavy-armed pitcher to carry the load.
"It looks like defensively they've been very strong and they can score a lot of runs," Gantt said.
Rachel Linso is the No. 1 pitcher for Northwest. At times she pitches to contact. Other times she is likely to pick her spot to get some strikeouts. She is also the leadoff hitter of this very young, but talented team. While the Rangers get a lot of leadership out of Linso, they only have two other seniors.
"I think we just have to put the ball in play and put some pressure on their defense," Gantt said. "That's something we've worked on the past few weeks. We have struggled with that in the past."
The winner of this first round matchup will face the winner of the Northeast Bradford-Claysburg-Kimmel game Thursday, also scheduled for today.