East Xtra: Franklin Regional softball team deals with changes
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For the Franklin Regional High School softball team, the only constant seems to be change.
Last year, the Panthers experienced a move from Class AAA to Class AAAA, competing in Section 2-AAAA against teams mostly from the eastern suburbs of Allegheny County.
Next season, Franklin Regional will move to Section 1-AAAA with long-dominating Westmoreland County programs such as Greater Latrobe, Hempfield Area and Norwin. But coach Jim Armstrong gets Franklin players to succeed by blocking out external flux.
"They try to [talk about next season]," he said. "And I say, 'What are we doing today?'"
The players answer Armstrong: "We're playing McKeesport." Or: "We're playing Plum."
Regardless of the opponent named in the Franklin Regional players' answer, the team reminds itself to focus on what it can control.
"You can't control the umpires, you can't control the weather," Armstrong said.
He's steered his players away from fixating upon such things. He added class and alignment changes to that list, noting that Franklin's section has changed almost every two years.
The strategy would appear to be working. The Panthers lead the section standings with a 10-1 record and are 15-2 overall. They have clinched at least a share of the section title and can win it outright today with a victory against second-place Plum (12-4, 9-2).
"We just have to play every play and do what we do," said Armstrong. "Every at-bat, whether it's a strikeout or home run, all you can do is move on to the next one."
He explained that he likes to keep the Panthers in "playoff-mode." They see each game as a sole opportunity to give their all and win. Abandoning external stresses suits the Panthers.
"They're a pretty level team," Armstrong said.
"Sam [Johnson] will usually round them up and get them together," he said.
Johnson, a senior and the team's top pitcher, and infielder Savannah Barnes are the team's captains, but Armstrong described Johnson's leadership style as more vocal than Barnes'. According to Armstrong, Johnson lets the team know when there's something she feels the team needs to focus on. For the Panthers, Johnson's suggestions are cause for action instead of cheers or alarm.
"They just know what to do," Armstrong said. "They don't get excited."
Johnson's fastball has been clocked at about 58 mph.
"I'd say she's one of the better pitchers in Quad-A," said Armstrong. "She has a multitude of pitches. She hasn't really let a big hit happen."
Barnes is known for leadership by example. As rules change and sections change, Barnes has adapted to team needs.
"Originally we had Savannah at third, and she's more of an outfielder/middle infielder," Armstrong said. "We found that we were able to move her back to second and move Alexa Fike to third."
As a result, Armstrong feels Franklin is better defensively.
"I think Savannah is more comfortable at second base, and I think that we are just a little more solid like that. I think everybody really just feels more comfortable."
Franklin Regional also has an experienced catcher in Kaelin Jackson. But Jackson had been moved to catcher from shortstop last year.
"She's a great leader. She and Sam work well together. [Jackson's] one of the top catchers around," said Armstrong. "But every kid should be able to play multiple positions. My girls are not selfish at all about where they play."
Franklin Regional's first through fifth batters are, according to Armstrong, good hitters who hit for power. The Panthers' sixth through ninth were described as "faster kids."
Left fielder Alexa Tominello and right fielder Krissy Siegel were noted for their speed.
"Alissa Lockwood is actually our [designated] runner for Johnson," said Armstrong. "She's pretty quick. All these girls from six down in the batting order put a lot of pressure on the defense."
Center fielder Courtney Roperti anchors the outfield. Angela Buccilli and Nicole Berardinelli round out the infield at shortstop and first base, respectively.
Dana Bacharach stepped in to pitch for the Panthers when they played out three wins at the Disney Tournament in Florida this year. Arianna Besh has filled the role of Franklin's top reserve outfielder.
First Published May 3, 2012 12:00 am