Tredyffrin >> The Conestoga softball team finished 17-7 this spring, its best season in several years, thanks in large part to an offense that averaged eight runs per game.
Pioneer hitters swung their bats to the tune of a .340 batting average, .412 on-base percentage and .502 slugging percentage.
“Hitting was our off-season focus, and our new coaches this spring, Kevin Conaway, Todd Whitlow and Don Martin worked tirelessly to help our girls become better hitters both physically and mentally,” said Conestoga head coach Pete Ricci. “We worked a lot on our mental approach to our at bats.”
Leading the way at the plate was 6-foot-2 senior first baseman and co-captain Katie Mayock, who will be playing basketball for St. Joseph’s University in the fall. This spring, she batted .480 with 36 hits (14 of them for extra bases), 32 runs, 29 RBI’s and a slugging percentage of .800, and led all infielders in the All-Central League voting.
“Katie was a dominant hitter this spring – she hit every ball hard,” said Ricci.
Mayock said, “Throughout high school I’ve done an offseason lifting program in the fall, but this past year I kept that up throughout the winter basketball season and then into spring. I think that added strength really improved my hitting this spring and definitely added an element of power that I’ve never really had before. Also, Coach Conaway really helped me with my pitch selection and what to look for depending on what the count is.”
Slick-fielding junior shortstop Olivia Cepielik also was potent at the plate, batting .417 with 31 runs scored and seven doubles while receiving All-Central League honorable mention and Conestoga’s Best Defensive Player award.
“At the beginning of the season, I was very anxious to hit the ball and would hack at pitches that were not in my zone,” said Cepielik. “However, with the help of my coaches, I made adjustments, kept my hands back, and focused in on every pitch until I found one that I could hit. Also, if I wasn’t having a good game at the plate, my teammates were always there to pick me up and give me pointers about what the pitcher was throwing.”
Cepelik’s double-play partner, senior second baseman and co-captain Rachel Lopez, batted .392 with a .568 slugging percentage and 22 RBI’s while providing good defense at the keystone spot and receiving All-Central League honorable mention.
Junior third baseman Faith Walker hit well the second half of the year and finished with a .349 batting average.
In the outfield, junior center fielder Jenny Noll batted .343 with 20 RBI’s, and had a knack for delivering clutch hits. She cracked a walk-off home run to beat Upper Darby in the District 1 playoffs, and her walk-off double beat Haverford after the Pioneers had suffered a couple of tough losses.
Sophomore outfielder Claire Overton, a first team All-Central League selection, batted .375 with 13 extra base hits for a .722 slugging percentage and scored 30 runs.
On the mound, Conestoga sophomore pitcher Lauren Lofland struck out 116 batters, posted a solid 2.95 ERA, and received second team All-Central League honors. She also batted .283.
“Lauren has the ability to shake off a bad outing and to come out firing and completely focused the very next game,” said Ricci. “She is extremely competitive and got better and better as the season wore on. Lauren expects perfection all of the time, and in this game that’s a tall order. Lauren is getting better at dealing with all of the ups and downs of being a varsity pitcher. Her best days are definitely ahead of her.”
Lofland said, “I was pleased with the way I changed speeds and was able to consistently hit my spots this spring. I will be working hard all summer to perfect my rise ball.”
Ricci praised the Pioneers’ resilience this season at several key points in the 2018 campaign. After winning seven in a row, Conestoga lost a couple of tough games to Ridley and Garnet Valley, then bounced back to beat Haverford when Noll hit a two-run walk-off double. Then, one day after losing 8-7 to Upper Darby in a game that essentially determined the Central League title, the Pioneers scored 10 runs against Villa Maria, who was 14-0 at the time.
“The Haverford and Villa games proved to me that we had the mettle to be a good team,” said Ricci. “The girls showed so much resilience at a couple of times when they could have packed it in.”
In the District 1 tournament, No. 8 seed Conestoga defeated Upper Darby 2-1, but lost to sixth seed Neshaminy for the fifth and final berth in the PIAA 6A state tournament, ending a memorable campaign for the Pioneers.
Ricci noted that Mayock’s leadership was vital to the Pioneers’ success this spring.
“Katie definitely led by example,” said Ricci. “She is always poised and she is an excellent role model for all of our players. The younger girls know that Katie has put in the time to get better – they have learned so much from her.”
Mayock said, “No one outside of the seniors had played in a high school [softball] playoff game until this year – so I think the seniors’ main job was helping everyone manage the successes and failures that came with this season. Not allowing everyone to get too high or too low after a big win or tough loss allowed us to keep moving forward and improving every day. We started off the season playing really well, and I think it was that strong start that helped us bounce back after tough losses later in the season – we knew the level that we were capable of playing at.”
Lofland said, “Our seniors were great leaders this season and kept us together and focused all year. From the beginning of the season we had great chemistry, and we will certainly use their leadership model again next season, and will be even stronger thanks to them.”
Cepielik said, “I think that the older girls, the juniors and seniors, were really adamant about communication and energy. Any good player can focus on themselves, but great players communicate with their teammates and share their energy with others.
“If we had a tough loss, we just came out the next game with more enthusiasm and we knew that we needed to keep our energy up. There were some games that once someone hit, it became contagious.”