Two years ago, South Williamsport center fielder Lizz Cummings had never before played softball. She had a lot to learn while playing against strong District 4 competition too.
It is safe to say, Cummings has been a quick learner.
Playing softball in only her third season, Cummings looks like she might be one of this season's breakout stars. The junior center field shined last week, going 6 for 10 while driving in eight runs and scoring six times. That performance helped South start 2-1 and could offer a glimpse of promising things to come.
"Lizz had the physical tools, but the hitting is what came so fast for her. She hasn't missed a beat there," South coach Scott Stugart said. "Last year there was a little bit of nerves being a first-time varsity starter, but in the second half she really came on and it's really carried on."
A year ago, Cummings played and started varsity for the first time. It was a big transition but down the stretch she was a huge asset. Cummings played her best softball late as South surged and won eight of its last 10 games while reaching the district semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Really, though, the biggest obstacle early was not the opponents. It was herself. Cummings too much pressure on herself thought too much at the plate. Once Cummings relaxed and cleared her mind, both she and the team took off.
"Last year during the first half of the season she was thinking about how her hands should be, how her stride should be and kind of had that I can't fail attitude," Stugart said. "The second half of last year and this year it's more attack mode. You see how she attacks the ball and it makes a world of difference."
That is a big reason Stugart moved Cummings from seventh to lead-off this season. It paid immediate dividends in the season opener against Canton as Cummings went 3 for 3 with a home run, two doubles, two walks and six RBIs. A day later she went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs in a 9-5 win over defending HAC-II champion Loyalsock.
Cummings has taken a crash course in softball but she has been look a sponge, absorbing everything. She is as effective in the field as she is at the plate and anchors the outfield a year after combining with Jourdan Boehmer and Rachel Floyd to form one of the area's best.
"Just me getting more confident is helping a lot. I definitely learned a lot from them (Boehmer and Floyd)," Cummings said. "They gave me pointers and tips. They helped me with everything. I wouldn't be the outfielder I am without Jourdan and Rachel."
The way Cummings is playing it is easy to imagine how good she would be had she played softball when she was younger. South, though, is not looking back. The Mounties simply are grateful Cummings is playing now.
"She plays on our summer team too and she's continued to improve each summer," Stugart said. "She really just keeps stepping forward. The sky is the limit for her if she keeps at it."
WORKING OVERTIME: The Montoursville-South game last Thursday drew a big crowd. All those there watched Montoursville pitcher Cayla Treaster play a terrific game. The junior allowed just one hit and no runs over the last four innings, struck out eight and went 2 for 3 while scoring the game-winning run as Montoursville won, 6-4.
What most of those there did not see was the work Treaster put in during the offseason. Mike Tate has coached at Montoursville the past 10 seasons but has had few players show as much dedication as Treaster. It is paying off too as she is a big reason Montoursville is 3-1 and looking up.
"It meant a lot to her because she knows how much work she has put in over the last two years," Tate said. "I just can't say enough good things about her. She just keeps plugging away. She never stops plugging away."
Treaster shined against South but it was her composure that stood out as much as her talent. South took a 4-0 lead when Kalynn Wheeland hit her second home run in the third inning. It might have made some pitchers buckle, but Treaster responded by pitching one of her best games. Facing a potent offense, Treaster allowed only a bunt single over the last four innings. She grew stronger as the game went on and retired South's last three hitters after Paige Lentz opened the seventh with that bunt.
She might not overpower opponents, but Treaster is a pitcher's pitcher. She locates well, hits her spots and moves the ball. Just as important, she seemingly has an unbreakable resolve.
"I just had to stay calm and keep it up," Treaster said. "I had to keep my technique right and execute and do the little things right."
"Nothing rattles her," Tate said. "They hit two home runs and she doesn't even look fazed. She's out there smiling. She settled down after that and pitched a great game."
EXTRA BASES: Former Williamsport all-state selection Alexis Bower is excelling during her freshman season at St. Francis. Wednesday, she threw a complete-game against Penn State and hit a game-winning two-run home run in a 4-2 win. Bower, Loyalsock's Amanda Daneker (Coastal Carolina) and South's Sarah March (Niagara) also are making a nice impact at Division I schools ... Freshman Cassandra Crouse won her first varsity game and Maddie Dincher went 3 for 3 with three RBIs Wednesday in St. John Neumann's 15-3 win over Millville ... Montgomery catcher Reilly Gearhart was expected to miss significant time to start the season with an injury but instead played in the opener and went 4 for 5 with a triple and five RBIs as Montgomery routed Lewisburg, 20-2. Rachel Hite went 3 for 3 and freshman Hannah Bryson opened her scholastic career with a five-hitter ... Wellsboro's Alexa Singer dazzled in Wellsboro's season opener, throwing a two-hit shutout and striking out 11 in a 1-0 win over Sayre.
Dr. Masse's top five in area softball
1. Jersey Shore (3-0): A year ago, Jersey Shore captured its third District 4 Class AAA championship while breaking program records for home runs and extra-base hits. The Bulldogs look like they have no intention of slowing down in 2014. Jersey Shore scored 27 runs and delivered 30 hits in three days last week, sandwiching a 7-6 win over fellow title contender Mifflinburg between blowouts over Midd-West and Selinsgrove. Brianna Stetts had a huge week and shined in the circle and at the plate. Stetts won two games and allowed just eight hits in 14 innings while going 5 for 6 with seven RBIs and six runs in the first two wins.
2. Milton (3-0): Jersey Shore and Milton have seemingly done everything together since 2006, combining to win eight straight district titles. Nothing has changed thus far with Milton also powering its way through three games. The Black Panthers have yet to play more than five innings, outscoring three teams 34-0 while outhitting them, 32-7. Five players delivered multi-hit performances and shortstop Kiah Brink went 4 for 5 in the last two games.
3. Montoursville (3-1): The Warriors might have reached a turning point with their comeback win at South. Montoursville lost a lot of close games last year but rallying past a team two days removed from beating last year's HAC-II champion should be an eye-opener. The Warriors, who beat Hughesville 10-3 two days later, hit well from top to bottom, played strong defense and looked like a team capable of being a major player in the conference.
"We said in the huddle this shows we can play with anyone," freshman Marlene Bassett said after going 2 for 3 with two RBIs. "That's a statement we can hold to.
4. Muncy (2-0): Pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter dominated against St. John Neumann last Thursday, throwing a five-inning perfect game and striking out 13 of the 15 batters she faced. The senior has an area-best 19 wins over the last two seasons. Senior catcher Crystal Good has been key to Muncy's success the last four seasons and opened her season with a flourish, going 3 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs in a 12-2 win over 2013 district qualifier Benton.
5. Wellsboro (3-0): Sophomore pitcher Alexa Singer is building off last year's breakout season and early indications are she could be one of the area's top players this season. Singer won three games, including two in the Northeast Bradford Tournament, allowing just one run and six hits in 18 innings. She also went 3 for 4 with two doubles in an 11-1 win championship win over Tunkhannock. Fellow sophomore Sarah Ingerick also looks like a rising star and had five hits in Saturday's tournament, including three doubles.
Player of the week
Mackenna Miller, Milton: The senior is one of the district's premier catchers and also is an outstanding hitter. Last week, she was nearly perfect. Miller went 9 for 10 with three doubles and a home run. She was 7 for 7 in her first two games and helped Milton overwhelm three straight teams.
Game of the week
Jersey Shore at Milton: Wednesday's game is the latest in what has become the district's best rivalries. They have met in six of the last eight district championships and both have appeared in state finals during that stretch. Almost every game between these rivals is a thriller and Wednesday's likely will be no different.