Pine-Richland softball looking for more consistency at the plate

Sunday, May 2, 2021 | 11:01 AM

As Pine-Richland softball geared up for the stretch run in the regular season coach Gary Shepard was looking for was consistency at the plate.

The Rams (6-6, 4-3 Section 2-6A) had a stretch of games in mid-April where they scored double digit runs three times, but they mustered only one run in section games against Hempfield and Seneca Valley last week.

There’s data that shows the Rams can put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard, and the goal is to find the combination needed to break out once again as they try to lock down a playoff spot.

“We’re juggling the batting order a little bit and trying to find the right mix,” Shepard said. “It’s a matter of putting hits together. We get one person on, but then we have to get another hit and do the fundamentals correctly like bunting and hitting behind runners to move them. We haven’t done a great job of that lately, so we’re not maximizing our opportunities when we get them. We also understand that there are really good pitchers in our section. We take nothing away from them and when teams face us they aren’t getting much either, because Gabby (Aughton) pitches so well every game.”

Freshman MacKenzie Gillis and senior Leah Hartzberg have provided power with four home runs each. Shepard said in his time coaching the Rams no one has hit more than three in a season. Junior Natalie Zentz has provided a spark offensively and subsequently has moved up in the batting order.

“I moved (Zentz) up from the No. 7 spot in the order all the way up to the No. 2 hole, because she’s hitting so well,” Shepard said. “Some of our younger hitters have struggled a little bit, but that’s to be expected when it’s your first time out there, and you’re facing pitchers that are juniors and seniors. We have to make adjustments and sometimes that just takes time.”

Along with solid defense, a major area of consistency for the Rams has come in the circle with Aughton.

Aughton, a junior and a Boston College commit, has limited opponents to three or fewer runs in six of seven section starts entering Friday’s game with Butler and has two shutouts.

“She really thinks about what she’s doing when she’s out there,” Shepard said. “One of the things I challenged her on was increasing the number of first-pitch strikes and being more efficient, because she was throwing a lot of pitches not only in games that we were going in extra innings, but in normal (seven-inning) games. In (Wednesday’s) game (against Seneca Valley) she had a much higher percentage of first-pitch strikes. That helps her be a lot more effective, because we can throw a few different pitches once we’re ahead in the count.”

Pine-Richland has gone into extra innings three times and is 2-1 in those games. The Rams have played in five games decided by three runs or less.

“When you’re in as many close games as we’ve been, I definitely think that will help us down the stretch and hopefully into the playoffs,” Shepard said. “Regardless, we need to find a little more consistency if we’re able to make the playoffs.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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