Cheltenham draws positives from loss to Council Rock South

CHELTENHAM — It’s not very often that a losing effort can be viewed as a step in the right direction.

But as the Cheltenham softball team came in from its postgame breakdown Monday, it had an air of confidence. While the Panthers had just lost, they liked a lot of what they had seen.

Council Rock South brought its bats in a 6-4 win, but the Panthers battled to the last out and hope the effort is a launch pad into the rest of a busy week.

“This was a really good team and we played up to their level,’ Cheltenham senior outfielder Maddie Bear said. “I knew we would, but it was great to see it.’

The Panthers were right in the game from the first pitch and if not for their one error, would have lead in the late innings. Council Rock South showed a little bit of everything it brings to the field, with some power hitting, solid pitching and strong defensive play.

Yet, Cheltenham never seemed to get frustrated. After a couple of tough results last week, it was a welcomed respite.

“It was what was needed after what we experienced the last week,’ Panthers senior first baseman Becca Simms said. “We needed this and it just shows we’re able to come back from something like that.’

The Golden Hawks were led by Steph Andreoli, who went 4-for-4 with a solo home run, two doubles and an infield single along with a run and two RBI. After staring the game in left field, she also pitched the final 1.1 innings to pick up the save. Andreoli staked her team to an early lead with a first inning home run.

However, South coach Greg Heydet Sr. felt his team came out flat and Cheltenham jumped on two first inning errors to go up 2-0 when Morgan Gianelle stroked an RBI triple and scored on a throwing error. But after that, South senior pitcher Amanda Sharp held the Panthers to just one hit total in the second, third and fourth innings.

Andreoli tied the game with an RBI double in the third, following a two-out triple by Jackie Schneider.

“It’s tough to come into the game with that pressure but she did well,’ Heydet said of Andreoli. “She also closed it out for us. Our starter pitched well but she left a few pitches up.’

Cheltenham’s defense was overall solid. The outfielders did well chasing down South’s long shots into the gaps and the infield was nearly perfect. But the one miscue would prove costly.

With two outs and a runner on first in the fourth, South second baseman Katelun Gaudet hit a hard comebacker to Panthers pitcher Grace DeRosa. DeRosa got a glove to the ball, stopping it, but by the time she fielded it, Gaudet was practically on the bag and the throw to first was late.

South’s No. 8 hitter, right fielder Chelsea Perkins, made Cheltenham pay by ripping a pitch into center for a three-run home run.

“That’s the way it is,’ Panthers coach Ron Perlstein said. “All these games come down to one pitch, one hit, one fielding mistake or one great play. I’m glad we’re in a position where it was that close, they’re a very good team, they’re second in their conference and their conference is incredibly strong.’

Council Rock South added an insurance run in the top of the sixth when No. 9 hitter Sabrina Dobson singled in Gaudet. In the bottom of the fifth, Cheltenham had put two runners on with two outs, but No. 3 hitter Rita Laychock had a hit taken away on a running grab by Mikayla Becker in center to end the inning.

Between Becker and Gaudet, the Golden Hawks stole at least three hits away from the Panthers but Cheltenham’s hitters didn’t waver in their approach at the plate. Instead of trying to overcompensate, the Panthers kept carrying on as usual.

“That’s been a problem for us,’ Bear, who will play at Penn State Abington, said. “Every play is a new play and every inning is a new inning and we have to keep that mindset going. That’s the most important part of our game, to let everything go.’

“We’ve really tried to drill that into our underclassmen,’ Simms, who is playing at Rhode Island, noted.

The approach finally paid dividends in the bottom of the sixth. Simms led off with a single then scored easily on Bear’s one-out triple. The freshman catcher drove in Bear with an RBI single to put the Panthers in striking distance before they were retired.

Perlstein pointed to Kuchler as one of the players he was most impressed with after Monday’s effort. Kuchler went 1-for-3 at the plate and was excellent behind the dish, throwing out a base stealer and framing DeRosa’s pitches well.

DeRosa had three strikeouts, including the final out of the seventh where she absolutely froze Sharp on a called third strike to strand a runner.

Panthers right fielder Madison Gianelle, who also had an excellent day in the field, led off the seventh with a single and moved up to second before Andreoli retired the side to end the game. Still, with three SOL American games on deck this week, it could be a starting point for a big week for Cheltenham.

“It’s a springboard, we were really in the doldrums last week,’ Perlstein said. “We lost to a big conference opponent in Upper Merion and we were really disheartened by that. Today, we recovered a little bit. We got back some confidence, a little bit of energy and some intensity which was important.’

The Panthers visit Upper Dublin on Tuesday, have a rematch at Upper Merion Wednesday and wrap up their week with a home game against Springfield Twp on Thursday.

Bear was most pleased with the team’s defensive effort, saying it hadn’t been consistent recently while Simms was glad to see some of the underclassmen get their bats going a bit. While every swing didn’t fall in for a hit, Cheltenham had enough good swings that the two seniors and Perlstein were confident it could lead to a breakout.

“We’re going to try to keep the train going,’ Simms said. “We can make it happen for ourselves and we want to get it done.’

“Everybody had the thought that we’re happy with the way that we played,’ Bear said. “We think everybody played well defensively and stepped up. It was a loss but it’s not that big of a deal to us if we can come back from it.’

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