ERIE – The new NCAC softball league certainly is loaded in 2020.
The conference includes four of Class 4A’s top six teams as determined by the CHSAANow.com preseason poll and the top two – No. 1 Holy Family and No. 2 Erie – kicked off their fall campaigns against one another at Erie High School on Thursday. The league may be new, but there is plenty of history, as well as championship pedigree, shared between the two rivals from the old Tri-Valley League.
Erie knocked Holy Family out in last year’s state semifinals on its way to claiming the 2019 championship. The year before, Holy Family knocked Erie out in the quarterfinals before going on to win the 2018 title.
In the latest rematch between these recent titans of their classification, Holy Family’s veterans were savvy in the critical late moments of a 13-8 win and capitalized on a talented but young Erie group stumbling a bit in its first action of the fall.
“Every year, we come out and we play Erie and it’s always a great game,” Holy Family senior Jenna Pfenning said. “This year, especially, we hopped on them in the first inning and it was awesome. We struggled a little bit in the middle but we came back in the end and I’m really proud of all these girls.”
Holy Family’s potent lineup scored four runs its first frame of the new season and the visitors led 7-4 after three innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Erie’s Paige Gilbert hit a grand slam to tie the game. That stalemate continued until the top of the seventh when Abby Edwards scored the go-ahead run on a throwing error, and Holy Family scored five more runs on an additional five errors.
A targeted team after winning state last fall, Erie head coach Vanessa Smith said she is confident her club will mature quickly in the circle and in the field.
“I’m glad we got our first game out of the way,” Smith said. “We’re a young team and you saw it in a couple of instances today. But our whole mission this year is to get better every game because we have great young athletes. If we stay together, pull together, we’ll be all right.”
Erie’s Ashlee Lovett, Kambry Fraser and Robyn Weigand each had two hits of their team’s 10 total hits. Every Holy Family player who picked up a bat on Thursday had at least one hit, including multi-hit games from Ava Kuszak, Annika Manzanares, Edwards and Pfenning, who homered and drove in four runs.
Holy Family will have another tough road contest on Saturday when the Tigers travel to play No. 3 Silver Creek. Erie will continue the 2020 campaign at home against No. 6 Mead on Tuesday. Those types of matchups are indicative of what both teams can expect to face consistently throughout league play in 2020.
“We love it and what we preach to the girls is just getting better every single day,” Holy Family head coach Moriah Nguyen said. “We have to want to come out and be great. We’ll take it game by game, we don’t take anyone lightly and we’ll hope for the best.”