An exciting season for the Elizabethtown Area High School softball team has come to what feels like a premature end. The Lady Bears fell in the first round of the District 3 Class 5A playoffs at Spring Grove 6-3 on Wednesday, May 23.
Two fielding errors helped the Rockets early, as Bri Di-Candeloro and Bryn Sporer came home on RBIs from Bailey Rapson and Hannah Gartrell to give them a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Elizabethtown fired back in the top of the second, however. Sophomore Hayden Calaman singled, and junior Sadie Seaman followed with a two-run shot over the right field to tie the game at 2-2.
Spring Grove kept the pressure on though. DiCandeloro doubled and scored on an RBI single from Sporer in the bottom frame. Hannah Shaffer then hit a home run of her own in the following inning to extend the lead to 4-2. In the fifth, Rapson doubled and came in on a single from Gartrell, who was then brought home on a sacrifice fly from Shaffer.
The Lady Bears had an opportunity to make things closer in the bottom of the sixth. They loaded the bases after two singles and a walk. Senior courtesy runner Grace Eckert was able to score on a wild pitch. However, relief pitcher Sara Jones then forced a groundout that led to a throw home, followed by two more outs. Elizabethtown later went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
“The team that won tonight is the one that adjusted,” head coach Gary Wylde said. “Our hitters made no adjustments, which really surprised me. Sometimes, you walk away from a game and say ‘Hey, hats off to them,’ but I just don’t think we got the most out of our girls today. That’s something I need to go back and look at. I take responsibility for it.” Gartrell and Shaffer led Spring Grove with 2 RBIs. The former had a team-high 2 hits. Rapson started the game on the mound, allowing 5 hits and striking out 3 batters. Jones entered when the bases were loaded in the bottom half of the sixth, and aside from the wild pitch, was flawless, forcing six straight outs to give the Rockets the win.
“We tried to pull outside pitches all night long, and you’re gonna get grounders to the left side and weak popups,” Wylde said. “Coming in, our game plan was to hit it to right-center. And how many did we see out there? One (Sadie’s homer). The girls were giving 100 percent. We just didn’t do it. We’re gonna work hard. We don’t like this feeling, but fortunately, we got a good core coming back.”
Freshman Kristin Geesey had a complete game at pitcher for Elizabethtown, throwing 4 strikeouts and allowing 7 hits. She and Hayden Calaman had 2 hits each to lead the team, with the other coming on Seaman’s homer.
“The biggest thing with Sadie, and she knows it, is when she’s locked in and focused, she’s as good of a hitter as anyone,” Wylde said. “It’s just a matter of maintaining that focus. She really took to what we were saying about halfway through the year, and she just excelled hitting-wise. And her defense has improved so much. She has a chance, if she works hard, to have a monster year (next season).”
Elizabethtown finishes the season with a record of 128, improving upon an 11-10 result in 2017. While the conclusions were similar with a first-round exit in districts, it’s a nice step forward for the team, which has the potential to make some serious noise next season. The Lady Bears will return 10 of their 12 varsity players next season, consisting of four juniors (Seaman, Bethany Burton, Lauren Leese and Marena Lonardi), four sophomores (Hayden Calaman, Haylee Calaman, Alyssa Hamilton and Erin Heffleger) and two freshmen (Geesey and Megan Gray).
“This is the second season of varsity ball for a lot of the sophomores,” Wylde said. “The biggest thing you see is the growth and maturity. There’s such a big upside for pretty much everyone coming back. We had two freshman in the lineup today, along with the four sophomores and (three of the) juniors. They picked it up. We’re looking forward to them working hard next year. And the upside is huge for the sophomores and the freshman. If they’re willing to work, some good things are gonna happen.”
The team will definitely miss their two graduating seniors, Eckert and Jocelyn Zook, who has been a mainstay on the team since joining as a freshman in 2015. The duo served as team captains this season and made a mark with their leadership and hard work.
“I can remember them coming in as freshman like it was yesterday,” Wylde said. “Grace just comes out every day and works hard. She played numerous positions for us and was one of our best baserunners. I just have a world of respect for her. Jocelyn started since her freshman year. I feel bad that she had that injury in the middle of the year because her consistency just didn’t get back to where she would’ve liked it. People forget that she was our pitcher last year. She carried us with a back that was hurting. That kind of player just doesn’t come around all the time. She does whatever you ask; the greatest kid in the world. We’re gonna miss both of them.”
Still, with a young team getting one more season of experience, the sky’s the limit for the Lady Bears. They’ll be off for the majority of the summer, aside from travel ball, so the team plans to regroup in the fall to prepare for next year.
“We’re looking forward to Kristin working on a few of her pitches,” Wylde said. “She’s got a bright future. Megan’s gonna be a terrific hitter. I think one of the things I noticed throughout the year when you look at the juniors’ play is they got better as the season went on. Erin’s a terrific defensive player, and her hitting’s coming on. And between Hammy and the twins, they’re there, but the scary thing is they can get better if they work hard.”