Early on last season, scoring runs was not a problem for the Keystone Oaks softball team.
In its first four games, Keystone Oaks scored 17, 12, 21 and 12 runs. The bats stayed hot for the Golden Eagles throughout most of the season but the team struggled down the stretch losing its final four games, including a WPIAL Class AA first-round playoff game against McGuffey.
This year, Keystone Oaks may have the pitching and defense to match that potent offense. Freshman Lauren McMillan has arrived on the varsity scene with plenty of potential and high expectations.
At 6 feet 1, McMillan is one of the tallest pitchers in the WPIAL and coming up through the ranks of travel softball, the WPIAL varsity stage should not be an intimidating factor for this freshman.
"She plays travel ball and her travel team plays at a very high level of competition," Golden Eagles coach Mark Kaminski said. "She has been there, done that. Lauren throws very hard."
Kaminski has followed McMillan's career since she was in sixth grade.
This season she will be surrounded by a group of veterans. The Golden Eagles graduated five starters but they do return seniors Meghan Staab and Eryn Caragein. Both Staab and Caragein were named to the all-section team last season.
Caragein, a Shippensburg University recruit, batted .447 last season. She moves from fifth to third in the lineup this season and she will be asked to pick up the slack left by the graduation of outfielder Kiersten Badzgon, a .725 batter last season. Staab will also help pick up some of the offensive slack. She batted .390 last season.
"It is tough to replace Kiersten," Kaminski said. "When you are batting .725, you are going to be on base most of the time and with her speed, every hit was at least a triple. So far Eryn is filling her spot, coming back from Tennessee, she did very well down there."
Keystone Oaks started the season by playing at Class AAAA Baldwin before traveling to Cookeville, Tenn., for the Gordonsville Tournament. The Golden Eagles lost, 12-3, at Baldwin and won two of three games in Tennessee, defeating York Institute and splitting two games with Sullivan East.
Caragein takes over in center field for Badzgon.
"Eryn is a good hitter and very, very fast," Kaminski said. "She is a good defensive player too. She really can do it all."
Staab bats leadoff and starts at shortstop.
Keystone Oaks (3-3, 1-0), the No. 3 ranked team in WPIAL Class AA, made its section debut on Tuesday with a 2-0 victory at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
Other returning starters are senior Mariah Callas, sophomore Candace Drzik and junior Bri Fischer. Callas moves from catcher to first base this season while Drzik moves from right field to catcher.
"[Drzik] is doing extremely well at catcher," Kaminski said.
Fischer starts at second base.
Sophomore third baseman Laura Poliziani and junior left fielder Paige Lehman are new starters in the lineup. Junior outfielder Julian Canello, a soccer player, joined the team this season and she has been contributing early on.
Seton-LaSalle won the section title with a 10-0 record last season ahead of Keystone Oaks (8-2), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (5-5), Carlynton (4-6), Avonworth (3-7) and Quaker Valley (0-10).
"I think Seton still holds the title and they have a very, very good pitcher and we have to prove we can beat them," Kaminski said.
"All the other teams should be good. Carlynton has good pitching, OLSH has good pitching, Quaker Valley is always getting better and Avonworth also gives us a tough game. Nothing will come easy for us."