Softball: Five takeaways from CM’s district championship win

(SHAREIK FLOWERS/FOR THE EXPRESS) Central Mountain’s Morgan Wetzel completes her swing after connecting with a pitch in Wednesday’s district championship win.

By SHAREIK FLOWERS

sflowers@lockhaven.com

MILL HALL- Central Mountain has built a strong resume in recent years.

They’ve advanced to the district title game in three straight seasons, and Wednesday’s 14-5 win versus DuBois was their second crown during the stretch. They’re riding a four-game win streak–and are playing well-rounded ball on both offense and defense.

The Wildcats return in the PIAA State Playoffs on June 3, but before we dissect that matchup let’s revisit CM’s commanding win versus DuBois. Here are five takeaways from that game.

1. Central Mountain’s offense is peaking at the right moment

Head coach Fred Caldwell believed the team’s hitting was its strongest characteristic entering the season, but he acknowledged the early season-struggles were a little concerning

“Coming into the year I thought our hitting was one of our strengths, but it really didn’t materialize early,” Caldwell said. “We kind of struggled, to be honest, at the plate at times. But they’ve worked very hard, and every practice they’ve worked on hitting.”

The strong commitment to hitting drills produced results as the offense has lighten up scoreboards recently. Their 11.6 runs per game the previous three outings doubled their scoring average of the three games prior. They put up 10 scores against Altoona, 11 versus Hollidaysburg and then erupted for another 14 in the district championship.

They’ve won four straight games, are playing with a sense of urgency and are crushing opposing pitchers. And given the increased level of competition the previous outings–Central Mountain’s scoring surge has Caldwell and the entire dugout excited.

“In the last three games they’ve been great,” Caldwell said. “The bats have come alive at the right time.”

2. The team is getting major contributions from its underclassmen

The Central Mountain roster boasts eight seniors–but in the district title game the underclassmen stole the show.

Sophomore leadoff hitter Alyssa Fisher ignited Central Mountain’s scoring with a solo home run in the bottom of the third. Freshman Caitlyn Watson, who has a Wildcat-high .446 batting average, cracked a 2-run blast to extend CM’s lead 7-4 in the fourth. And Sophomore Riley Houser led CM with a team-high three hits and a pair of RBIs.

The underclassmen recorded nine of Central Mountain’s 16 hits in the game–and with just under a dozen seniors exiting after the season, the future looks bright for the Wildcats.

“Alyssa Fisher has just been phenomenal defensively,” Caldwell said of his second baseman.”Her home run against DuBois certainly helped us, but her defense has helped us all year. And Riley Houser has been just a mainstay at shortstop. She’s so dependable and reliable there, and her throws are always on target.

“With eight seniors we will be losing a lot next year, but with a lot of the returners we have, and ninth graders coming up next year there’s a lot of good talent coming up. So I am optimistic about the future.”

3. There’s no apparent weakness in the lineup

Central Mountain recorded a sensational 16 hits in the title game. But what’s even more note worthy is that for the second straight game each batter in the lineup recorded a hit.

“Early in the year it seemed like we were kind of streaky, because we would only have a couple of girls in the top or bottom of the lineup hitting,” Caldwell explained. “But now they’re all hitting. Up-and-down the lineup we don’t have anybody who can’t hit the ball, or put it in play at any time.”

Riley Houser posted a game-high three hits. Morgan Wetzel, Caitlyn Watson, Alexa Shultz, Autumn Dershem and Alyssa Fisher each recorded a pair of hits. Kylie Wagner, Madison Knepp and Madalyn Bechdel rounded out the offense with a hit apiece.

Bechdel’s hit happened in the final frame. After building a 3-0 count, she switched from rightie to a left-handed hitter and slapped a single.

“She was excited and so was I,” Caldwell said.

4. Central Mountain has a bend-but-don’t-break defense

Starting pitcher Madison Knepp has surrendered 126 hits this season, and ten on Wednesday–but still boasts a solid 3.65 era.

Teams have had success with contact against her– but Knepp and the rest of the defense have performed well when needed. They turned a pair of double plays Wednesday and held the Beavers scoreless the final three innings.

“Madison Knepp is a great person and a great athlete,” Caldwell said. “We know striking out 15 batters in a game is not her game. She’s very good at spinning the ball, staying on the corners and making other teams mishit. And we’ve preached to the defense to just make the routine plays, make the outs and we will be fine. They’ve done that very well.”

5. Caldwell wants to clean up the miscues before the next game

Central Mountain’s defense didn’t break in the title game, but the pair of errors the defense committed stood out to Caldwell.

“We had the one error in the outfield, and then we had an error fielded by the third baseman who was throwing to first,” Caldwell explained. “But those are little things we are going to keep working on to clean up. “

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