Ace’s secret weapon helps Pine-Richland softball to signature early season win

Saturday, April 17, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Gabriella Aughton showed up to Pine-Richland’s game at Hempfield on April 9 with a secret weapon.

She debuted a drop ball pitch, and with the new addition to an already strong repertoire, she proved difficult to hit.

Aughton struck out 12 batters and the Rams got a two-run homer from Mackenzie Gillis to beat the five-time defending WPIAL champion Spartans, 2-0.

It was a big win for a Rams team that has come out of the gates strong going 4-2 and 3-0 in Section 6-A through April 14.

“It was super exciting for all of us,” Aughton said. “We played well together as a team, and Coach Gary (Shepard) put us in the best position to be successful and to win. We have a great defense. I really look at it as a complete team effort. Hempfield is a great team. They are three-time state champions, really well coached and always really talented.”

Aughton, a junior and a Boston College recruit, said the drop ball was the only pitch she really didn’t have in her arsenal. She credited her coach Jason Snyder at Performance Velocity Systems with helping her discover it.

“When I started going to Jason, he observed my mechanics and saw that I had front-forward mechanics, which made the drop ball a perfect pitch for me,” Aughton said. “When I started throwing it, it immediately clicked for me. I found it right away, and it worked really well in the game.”

There was one bullpen session where Aughton worked with catcher Alexia Brown on the drop ball. The next day she put it to use against Hempfield.

“Alexia did an outstanding job (against Hempfield) like she always does,” Aughton said. “Over the offseason, we built some chemistry and really formed an unbreakable bond, and it’s been really paying off in our games. She’s a wall back there. She picked up on the drop ball right away. It was easy for her to adjust, because she’s really good.”

As the scoreless innings wore on, the intensity grew. The game was one inning away from going to the international tiebreaker rule, where a runner starts on second base each half inning. Gillis’ homer allowed Aughton to have a clean slate in the bottom half, and she put up another zero to finish it off.

“I think everyone in the dugout jumped about 10 feet off the ground when she slammed that ball way over the fence, because she really pulled through for us with two outs,” Aughton said. “That gave me some comfort going into the bottom of the eighth, knowing I had a two-run cushion.”

The win over Hempfield punctuated a strong start for the Rams, who had a walkoff 4-3 win over Seneca Valley four days later. Aughton is confident the team can keep it rolling.

“It just shows the hard work we’ve been putting in together is worth it,” Aughton said. “We’ve done a good job of having a team-first mentality. It was a big win, but one thing we want to do is treat every team we play like they’re Hempfield and carry that mentality through the rest of the season.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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