PHILADELPHIA >> Ameenah Ballenger casually introduced herself when the Delaware County East team held tryouts for the 14th annual Carpenter Cup Classic.
“Hi, I’m Ameenah,” she said. “I go to Penn Wood.”
Ballenger is a rising junior pitcher at a high school that, to be fair, hasn’t produced many quality softball players. For years, the program has been in a constant state of flux.
Ballenger, though, is changing everyone’s perception about Penn Wood softball. When she’s on the mound, Penn Wood is no longer a pushover or a guaranteed victory. She’s a real talent, and a kid who is working to get noticed.
Many of her Delco East teammates didn’t know much about her. The Patriots won three games in the spring, which was considered a marked improvement over previous seasons, and oftentimes have a difficult time competing against Del Val League rivals.
Ballenger is heading a movement to put Penn Wood softball on the map.
“I feel like we can get there,” she said. “We played Interboro this year and it was a 2-0 (loss). They usually mercy-rule us every single time, so that’s an improvement. My dad and I are going to do some things in the summer with (her teammates) who are playing varsity.”
Ballenger is believed to be the first softball player from Penn Wood to participate in the Carpenter Cup.
“I just want to be able to get more confidence with myself,” she said. “At my school, I know I can do well there, but how can you do against girls who are all good? How can you compete with them?”
Ballenger proved she belonged Monday.
Ballenger pitched in all three of Delco East’s games Monday. The team finished 1-2, losing to Burlington County (10-1) in the morning and Tri-Cape (4-1) late in the day. In the middle was an 8-0 victory over Philadelphia PCCAF. This is the second year in a row that Delco has fielded two teams – East and West – in the Carpenter Cup.
Ballenger wanted the chance to show that she is not just the best kid on a high school team not known for winning many games.
Since she was in the fourth grade, softball has been her focus. Her father, Darren, a Penn Wood graduate himself, encouraged his daughter to pursue the sport and has provided her with opportunities to improve her all-around game.
“Softball ended up taking over for me,” she said. “I’m pitching in games, practices, lessons. My best pitch is my changeup and I’m working on the curveball now.”
Ballenger plays softball year-round for the Delco Diamonds travel organization, and was leaving FDR Park Monday to attend her Del Val Youth championship game with Aldan.
“I was prepared for today because I play with a lot of talented girls on the Diamonds,” she said. “I also knew there would be a lot of girls here today who were more talented. I knew I was somewhere, not as high as some of the girls here. But I knew if I pushed myself, I could compete. If you have the confidence, then you can compete with anyone.”
Ballenger pitched three scoreless innings in the win against Philadelphia PCCAF, then came back to toss three more solid innings in the loss to Tri-Cape. She was the pitcher of record, but only one of her three runs allowed was earned. She struck out two, walked one and gave up two hits.
Alayna Lloyd of Sun Valley gave Delco East a 1-0 lead with a line drive single to left field in the second inning.
Interboro’s Emily Gavin singled, moved to second base on a wild pitch, and scored on Lloyd’s knock.
Poor defense proved costly for Delco East. All four Tri-Cape runs were set up by shoddy fielding. Tri-Cape grabbed a 2-1 lead in the fifth thanks to a fielding miscue in left field. Two more Delco East errors enabled Tri-Cape to tack on solo runs in the sixth and seventh.
Delco East rallied in the bottom of the seventh. Kylie Marsh (Harriton), Madison Koons (Sun Valley) and Brooke Bender (Strath Haven) hit three straight two-out singles to load the bases. But Penncrest’s Melody Gleason hit a pop up in foul territory to end the game.
Bender, a rising senior, led the way for Delco East with three base knocks, including a triple. Despite the outcome, Bender enjoyed her Carpenter Cup experience.
“Last year we lost very badly to this team, so this year having such a close game was a good way to come back,” Bender said. “The errors kind of hurt us, but other than that I thought we played a good game. It’s fun. During school ball, it’s all about the big rivalries, but we get to come together and become friends.”
Delaware County West makes its Carpenter Cup debut Tuesday at 9 a.m. against Inter-Ac/Bicentennial.
Among the players on the Delco West roster are Conestoga’s Claire Overton and Lauren Lofland, Haverford’s Ali Murphy, Garnet Valley’s Becca Halford, Diane Torregrossa and Audrey Shenk, Marple Newtown’s Abby Layden, Ridley’s Ashley Shanks, Springfield’s Jenna Casasanto and Caitlin Chambers, and Upper Darby’s Lexi Witmer and Camryn Young.
The Inter-Ac/Bicentennial squad includes Episcopal Academy’s Belle Volatile and Delco Christian’s Erin Mulholland.
The Catholic League gets under way at 9 o’clock, facing Olympic Colonial. Representing Archbishop Carroll are Katelyn Barker and Erin Boyle. Hayley Rugh is the lone Bonner & Prendergast rep. Three players from Cardinal O’Hara — Lexi Galli, Julia Kush and Jenna Smith — are on the team as well.