Penn-Trafford softball uses fluid lineup to great playoff success

Saturday, June 11, 2022 | 4:44 PM

Unsatisfied by his team’s offensive output in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, Penn-Trafford softball coach Denny Little decided to tweak his batting order for the quarterfinals.

Not that it was anything new for Little, who has snapped the lineup in half, bent it this way and that and twisted it to his liking “probably about 16 times” this season.

“We shake it up for a reason,” he said.

The reason? Because he can.

The Warriors have hitters and speed, and Little doesn’t want any of it to go to waste.

While many teams that have made it this far in the state postseason tend to stick with a steady 1-through-9 blend as not to mess with chemistry, Little is like a mad scientist, more wide-eyed and ravenous as each game nears.

“We’re very fortunate here to have such a deep lineup,” Warriors senior pitcher Mia Smith said. “We have younger girls who are getting into games now and gaining experience at the varsity level. We have the options to move girls around.”

The lineup was quite different Thursday when the Warriors (20-3) slammed District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, 16-5, in the Class 5A quarterfinals.

It could change again as a rematch against WPIAL champion Armstrong (22-4) awaits at 2 p.m. Monday at Mars in the semifinals.

Armstrong edged the Warriors, 6-5, on a walk-off homer by Jenna Clontz to win the WPIAL title.

Against Southern Lehigh, two of the tweaks saw sophomore Mackenzie Keenan bat leadoff and freshman Cam Ponko move up a spot to No. 3. While the Spartans made scoring runs a lot less stressful for the Warriors with an eye-popping 11 errors, Penn-Trafford still produced 11 hits, including three successful bunts that led to singles or errors.

Southern Lehigh had trouble fielding the grounders, as inconspicuous as they looked off the bat.

Keenan had three hits, including a two-run homer, and Ponko was 3 for 4 with five RBIs, including a pair of RBI singles.

“I called Mack (Wednesday night) and told her I was moving her to leadoff,” Little said. “She was a little surprised, but I thought it was a move we needed to make. We moved her up (from No. 2), and she did her job. I told her she only needed to lead off once.”

Playing the who’s hot, who’s not game with his hitters plays a role in Little’s decision making. But he is quick to go to his bench to wake up a stale lineup mid-game.

“We want to win,” Little said. “We put the girls in a position to win. This isn’t rec ball where everybody gets a turn. The girls get 20 at-bats (in a row) to produce. We look at what they do over a seven-game stretch. If you hit, you play.”

Senior outfielder Hannah Allen, a Washington & Jefferson commit, had bounced around the order like her teammates.

“I’ve been 3, 4, 5 and 6,” she said. “When I am in the 4 spot, I don’t get as many good pitches as when I am in the 6th.”

In every playoff game, Little and his staff have used multiple pinch-hitters, including junior Alexa Forsythe, freshman Lorryn Sepe and freshman Rilie Moors.

“Some of our girls are just as good as the others,” said Ponko, who has also batted second, third and fifth.

Even courtesy runner Olivia Popovich got an at-bat against Southern Lehigh.

Many of the lineup alterations are because of the designated player spot, ordinarily reserved for Keenan. But Keenan has been listed as the starting catcher of late and is replaced by senior Maddy Rapp with two outs the previous inning so Little can courtesy run for Keenan.

Sophomore first baseman Erin Drotos also got to bat. Another freshman, Kylie Anthony, got the start in center field for junior Caitlyn Schlegel, who was out sick. She produced two RBIs.

“We only scored three runs (against Tri-Valley in the first round), and we had 14 pop-ups,” Little said. “Moors put down a bunt and did her job.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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