Clutch efforts in close games help Pine-Richland softball to 5-1 start

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Saturday, April 23, 2022 | 9:01 AM


Natalie Zentz and Alexia Brown both pointed to the bond within the Pine-Richland softball team as one of the factors to their early season success.

While the team is close off the field, they’re pulling together between the lines as well.

The Rams have been solid in all three phases — pitching, hitting and defense — and getting contributions throughout the lineup. It’s led to a 5-1 overall record and a 3-1 mark in Section 2-6A through Wednesday.

“We have a really great group of girls that are motivated to achieve the same goals,” Zentz said. “It’s something that connects us all. We all want to do well and play our hardest, while forming a great bond and family-like atmosphere. That pushes us to never give up even if we are down one run or two runs. We never let anyone get down. We’re always there to pick each other up.”

Pine-Richland is coming off a season where it won its first playoff game in 25 years.

The Rams have been in tight games throughout with four of their six games decided by three runs or less. They are 3-1 in those contests.

They’ve gotten some big hits from different players in each game.

In the lone loss, a 3-2 defeat against Hempfield, Brown tripled, and Mackenzie Gillis had two hits.

Sophomore Jocelyn Langer, freshman Illiana Aggelou and sophomore Marissa DeLuca belted a double each in a 4-1 win over Seneca Valley. Brown, a senior, homered, DeLuca went 4 for 4 with a double and Langer singled and doubled in a 6-2 win over Norwin. Rams coach Sam Hartzberg credited everyone in the lineup with contributing a big hit at some point in one of the wins.

Brown agreed with her coach’s sentiments.

“Everyone has something that they bring to the lineup,” Brown said. “We have some girls at the top that can slap bunt and drag bunt and some that are total power hitters. We also have fast girls throughout the lineup. The coaches have done a good job of putting us in the right places. We have a good strong top of the lineup with sophomores and freshmen. When they hit it carries down through the lineup. We’re all unique in how we can contribute, but having those younger players come in and contribute has been huge for us.”

While the Rams have been hitting the ball well, standout senior pitcher Gabriella Aughton has shut opponents down. Aughton, a Boston College recruit, struck out 31 batters in the first four section games. Fellow senior Harley Aguglia recorded three outs in the seventh to get the save in a 5-4 win over North Allegheny.

Defensively, the Rams have been stout all season, but one play stands above the rest, and it came on the final out of the North Allegheny game.

The Tigers had runners on base with two outs when a high pop fly was hit just behind second base, but Langer raced in from deep center field, laid out with full extension, caught the ball and held on as she crashed into the ground sending the entire team into a state of euphoria as they rushed to her to celebrate.

It was a highlight reel catch and Zentz had a good look at it from her right field spot.

“It was truly amazing,” Zentz said. “She had the perfect angle to it, called for it and took it all the way. After she caught it we all were jumping around, cheering and screaming. It was such a good game and after she made the catch there was just some relief that we won. Those are the situations and games that you live for. All of us coming together after that moment is part of what makes us a great team.”

The Rams have put themselves in good position going into the second half of section play. They’ll likely have to play some close games again in the second go-round in a highly competitive section, but they’re ready for it.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking being in so many close games, but since we’ve built a team culture where we’re all focusing on the same end goal it helps us get through them,” Brown said. “We can all take a deep breath when we get in the dugout and know we’re on the same page. Those intense games have helped us grow closer as a team, and overall they’ve been good for us as a team.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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