HOWARD - Jump on your opponent for some big runs early, mix in some good pitching, top it with a solid defensive effort and you usually have the ingredients for a win in the game of softball.
That was the game plan for District 5 champion Mifflin County as the MC 11-12 All-Stars ran away from District 11 champ Mount Union for an 11-3 win in the Little League Section 4 softball opener Tuesday night at the Howard Little League Complex.
"We got on them early, and the girls understand that it is important to get out early and get the lead," Mifflin County manager Travis Eckley said. "That set the tone and then we were able to close it off."
Sentinel photo by TIM?SHUMAKER
Mifflin County’s Eleana Eckley, second from right, slides into second base for a sucessful steal while the ball gets by Mount Union second baseman Brandy Hobble, left, and shortstop Darian Dixon.
After spotting Mifflin County five runs in the first inning, Mount Union came back to pose a threat in their half of the inning, but came up empty. Mount Union manager Tom Hollibaugh felt that the inability of his team to capitalize on the opportunities they had made the hole seem even deeper.
"They got us big early and they pitched very well," Hollibaugh said. "We had some runners in scoring position, but we just didn't bring them in. We had the bases loaded in the first inning (with nobody out) and didn't score a run. When opportunities like that are there, we have to take advantage of the opportunities to bring the runs in."
Although his team won the game by eight runs, Eckley wasn't overly ecstatic with the hitting from his club.
"I would just like to see us hit a little better," he said. "Yeah, we got the job done, but we didn't drive the ball like I know we can. We got the big, early lead, but we need to get our bats in order. We left some runners stranded and granted we didn't need to score them in this particular game, but we are going to face some teams out there where we will have to get them in. We just can't afford to let runners on second and third without scoring, not at this level and where we are headed."
Where they were headed Tuesday was around the bases. Eleana Eckley and Maddy Amspacher each had a pair of base hits in the game. Hannah Fitzgerald also hit twice, with a double. Laiken Turner had the biggest success with the bat, hitting three times, also with a two-bagger.
Mount Union scored all three of its runs in the second inning, but other than that, Mifflin County, although committing a pair of errors, kept them from crossing the plate.
"Defensively we are fine," Travis Eckley said. "This might be the best defensive team we have been able to put together in quite a few years. We'll be good defensively and if our bats show up on the night of our games, we'll be right there."
While Mount Union scored all of its runs in one inning, they also gave up nine of the 11 runs to Mifflin County in two frames, five in the first and four in the fourth. Although you have to play and count all six innings, take those two away or reduce the number of runs in each inning, and it might have been a different ball game.
"Other than those two innings, our girls played pretty well," Hollibaugh said. "We had a couple of key plays which we didn't make on a couple of routine balls, but they are 12-year-olds and those things are going to happen. You can't take anything away from their pitcher because she is tough, but we are a better hitting team than we showed tonight. The only thing we can do is regroup, come back out the next time we play and do better."
Mifflin County banged out 13 hits in the win, eight different players coming through with at least one hit.
"That is important when you get to this level," Eckley said about distributing the offensive wealth. "That is just a testament to the group of girls we have. I feel confident that one through nine, anybody who steps in there is going to get a hit. That is very important in the big games because in those games, to be successful you have to hit the ball and move runners. That is what it is all about. Thursday night we play right back here (at Howard) and we are going to bring our bats along with us."
Mifflin County is deep with pitching and the District 5 champs put two of those arms on display in starter Hanna Kanagy and the reliever, Amspacher. The Kanagy-Amspacher duo combined to surrender only one hit, a leadoff double by Cassie Querry in the fifth inning. While being stingy with base hits, Kanagy and Anspacher struck out six while walking eight.
"That was part of our plan plus we have a long road ahead of us," Eckley said of using two pitchers with different styles. "We have plans. We set a goal with this team and we are going to try and meet that goal. It is going to have to be a team effort, but we have enough pitchers on this team that we don't have to have any one of them throw a complete game."
Although they won the game in easy fashion, Eckley feels that his girls also had a few nerves in the game.
"I think these girls are still getting over some of the nerves," he said. "It is a big thing for them when you tell them that it is All-Stars. It is not the regular season, but once they get the nerves out of their system and we get our bats here, we're good."