Alexis Bower and Tay Parker captured the state's Class AAAA and AA Player of the Year Awards last year, respectively. Both are back again for their senior years.
That fact alone drives home how good the softball in this area is. Win a District 4 championship and one has an excellent shot at making a run at state Gold. Three area teams captured district titles last year and Warrior Run reached the state final. Several other teams were in the running and will be again this season. Whoever your team is, worry about how the season will end later.
Right now, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Dr. Masse's Preseason Top Five
(Last year's records in parentheses)
1. Warrior Run (24-3): The scary thing about the Defenders is that a year after winning the program's first league, district and Eastern Region championships, they might be even better. Warrior Run returns all but one player from last year's record-setting team that came within a run of winning the state title. The offense is stacked with first baseman Jackie Clemens earning all-state honors last year and Devin Nicholas, Gabby Shrawder and Carra Rishel, to name a few, having big seasons. Parker was tremendous on the mound and never stops working. This group has played together since they were young kids and have improved every step of the way. Their mission now is to go out on top and finish this upward journey.
2. Williamsport (18-4): Bower returns for her final scholastic season and also is hoping to graduate on a high. Williamsport has captured two straight District 2-4 Class AAAA championships and has five starters back from last year's team that also repeated as Central Penn League champions. Bower is dominant enough to keep Williamsport in every game on the mound. The big question is whether Williamsport can develop the offensive consistency to make it a major state title contender. A big plus is that most of the returning starters are sophomores with huge upsides. Williamsport also has some promising newcomers so it appears well stocked to handle a demanding schedule and again play into June.
3. Jersey Shore (15-3): The names often change but the results never do. Jersey Shore holds the district's longest postseason streak and has reached districts every year this century. Expect more of the same this season. The Bulldogs have the difficult task of replacing ace Arika Stopper but Brianne Brewer could help fill that void and make a name for herself. The offense is dangerous and Jersey Shore plays small ball as well as any team around. Holly Peacock and Hannah Yost are four-year starters who excel in all areas and Kayla Allen is coming off a huge season in which she hit .519 and was not caught on any of her 23 stolen base attempts. Expect Jersey Shore to again be in the running for league and district championships.
4. Loyalsock (11-11): The Lancers are one of the teams that can match firepower with Warrior Run. The top concern for Loyalsock is finding someone to pitch after Casey Ulmer and Sara O'Dell graduated. If that becomes a strength the Lancers can be a district title contender. Amanda Daneker is one of the state's best catchers and highlights a potentially explosive offense. She also is a defensive standout who is a weapon since she does not let runners advance on her. Ashleigh Bair is one of the area's most versatile players and the team is loaded with quality three-year starters. Loyalsock lost a bunch of one-run games, including in the district quarterfinals last year and twice to Warrior Run. If those results are reversed it could be standing tall late in the season.
5. Wellsboro (12-8): The Hornets return every player from a team that came on strong, rallied from four runs down in the seventh inning to beat South Williamsport in districts and gained valuable postseason experience. Add in some promising freshman, including standout Sarah Ingerick, and Wellsboro has the look of a team that could make some postseason noise. Pitchers Brooke Kohler and Maggie Smith form a nice tandem and Kohler was outstanding in some big games last year. The offense is balanced and Wellsboro is adept at manufacturing runs. Wellsboro was up and down last year, the sign of a young team, but if it establishes more consistency it can make a run at a league title and earn a high playoff seed.
Preseason Players of the Year-Alexis Bower, Williamsport-Amanda Daneker, Loyalsock; Tay Parker, Warrior Run: Yes, I am taking the easy way out but these are three terrific players and picking between them is a near impossible task. Bower went 17-4 with a 0.84 ERA and allowed just 56 hits in 141 innings while striking out 220. She also threw nine shutouts and allowed just two hits in two district wins. Offensively, Bower hit .547 with seven home runs, 29 RBIs and a 1,000 slugging percentage.
Daneker is the best catcher this reporter has seen in 14 years here. She will play at Coastal Carolina next year and did not allow a player to steal against her last year, throwing all 11 out while compiling a .983 fielding percentage. Daneker is a powerful hitter as well. She hit .603 last year with five home runs, 31 RBI and 30 runs scored.
Parker is a dynamic two-way threat as well. She went 24-3 on the mound a year ago, recording a 1.38 ERA and striking out 239. Parker threw six no-hitters and 11 shutouts and has topped 600 career strikeouts. She is just as dominant offensively. Parker hit .642 with seven home runs, 18 doubles, four triples and a district-high 45 RBIs. One of the district's fastest runners is skilled at taking an extra base and has the total package.
Game of the Week
South Williamsport at Loyalsock: Thursday's game is the latest in a series that frequently produces exciting games and dramatic finishes. Both are hoping to make an early-season statement and the winner gathers some nice momentum moving forward.