Emmaus softball closes in on district playoff berth
Emmaus came into the final week of the regular season with its task easily defined, but not necessarily easily achieved.
The Hornet softball team had to find two wins among its final three games of the season to reach districts. That task includes games against Whitehall (7-8 EPC, 11-8 overall), East Stroudsburg South (3-12, 3-15) and Central Catholic (3-13, 3-15).
With Whitehall being the toughest of the three games, the Lady Hornets didn’t shy away from the challenge and wanted a win against the Zephyrs to start their week.
“Today was going to be the time to set the tone,” said coach Brittany Frederick-D’Agostino. “This is the type of energy we need for the rest of the week and to go into districts.”
Senior Maddie Clark started on the mound for Emmaus and allowed a first-inning walk. With the help of catcher Abby Bartels, Clark faced just three hitters. Bartels threw out a would-be base stealer to end the inning. From there, Clark allowed just three hits and one more walk through five shutout innings. At one point she struck out four batters in a row.
“We came out ready to win,” said Emmaus outfielder Caitlyn Ashelman. “We knew this was a big game and Whitehall is a good team and we just wanted to come out and win and hopefully it sets the tone for the rest of the week. I hope this is the game that we can turn things around. Last time we played them we had 12 hits and didn’t score a run. Today we were able to put some runs up and beat a good team, so we hope we can carry this on and just keep going to the next game.”
Emmaus got its first run in the second inning when Lily Trexler placed a single perfectly between the third baseman and left fielder with the ball landing inches from the foul line. Ashelman scored from third on the play and the Hornets were up 1-0. The hit was big not just for the Hornets, but for Trexler, who had been struggling at the plate.
“When she got that hit, I was just so proud for the kid because she mentally has been killing herself and she broke through and now her confidence is back up and it’s perfect timing,” said Frederick-D’Agostino.
Emmaus got an insurance run in the fourth when Lexi Ruth drove a one-out triple over the center fielder’s head and then scored when freshman Madison Bruns singled to right to make it 2-0.
After five innings, it appeared like Whitehall was finally starting to get a bit of a read on Clark and was making better contact. That’s when Emmaus changed things up and brought in Hannah Palinkas to pitch. Palinkas set down all six batters she faced, four of them on strikeouts, and Emmaus captured the first of the two wins that it needs this week for the season to continue.
“Today we had that bloop single over third that scored the run and I think that really allowed us to break things open a little bit. We just need to get those key hits,” stressed Ashelman, who is affectionately known as “Squid” to her teammates.
The pitching situation has become interesting for Emmaus. Like most teams, they figured to ride primarily with one pitcher in Palinkas. When she missed a couple games because of an injury, Clark got some time on the mound and the realization set in that in this case, two really might be better than one. It led the Lady Hornets to have somewhat of a tag-team of pitchers who can keep opposing batters off balance.
“I didn’t think in the beginning of the season that this was what I was going to do; I didn’t plan on it, but they’ve been a great duo,” said Frederick-D’Agostino, who herself was a pitcher for Emmaus in her playing days. “Whitehall started to get some bats on Maddie Clark a little bit and it was the perfect time to make a change. It’s just enough to throw the batters off.”
Pitching has carried Emmaus (6-8, 9-9) this season as the offense struggled to find a groove. That has made for a difficult season for Frederick-D’Agostino, but with signs that the bats could be warming up, she believes things could get very interesting for the Hornets.
“It’s been stressful and a little frustrating and it’s frustrating for them, too,” said the first-year coach. “I said at the beginning of the year and I still believe it that when they get the bats going, this is a dangerous team. This is a great time to let loose now and I think we’re going to be a team to look out for; maybe not to everybody else, but to me.”