Big first inning lifts Pope John Paul II over Pottstown

POTTSTOWN — With no playoffs in sight, the only direction to move is forward.

With that movement comes progress and a slew of small victories.

Whether it’s a great play on defense, a clutch two-out hit, or a run being scored, each small victory represents one more moral victory for two teams that are putting its best foot forward to climb up the PAC-10 standings — maybe not this year, but in the coming years.

Pope John Paul II and Pottstown don’t have many wins between the two in past seasons (eight PAC-10 wins in the past three years), but Tuesday’s 8-4 victory for the Golden Panthers offered a glimpse of what could be if progress is followed, not shunned.

Gabby Simms finished 4-for-5 with one run scored and one RBI, Paige Horgan 2-for-4 with two RBIs, Kat Martin with three hits and two RBIs, Amanda Butera with three hits, Maureen Moroz with two hits and two runs scored and Alyssa Schwab with two hits and one run scored as PJP held on for the victory after putting a seven spot on the board in the first inning.

The win is PJP’s (2-11 PAC-10) second PAC-10 win of the season under first-year head coach Amanda Knight and the eighth conference win for the Golden Panthers in three seasons. The Golden Panthers have five games remaining to top its 3-15 conference record the past two seasons — and with the progress senior captains Horgan and Maureen Moroz have seen thus far, it could happen.

“We’re actually in the games now,” Horgan said. “We’re like “wow, we could actually beat this team that 10-runned us for the last three years. It’s a good feeling but it makes losing harder now.”

“We had no chemistry and no discipline to start the year,” Moroz added. “We had to start from scratch and build up from there. There’s been improvements. We aren’t making the silly errors that we used to. Overall it’s been a big jump from where we used to be.”

Ten feet away on the opposing bench, the Trojans (0-12 PAC-10) felt the same.

Aris Cambers finished with a hit and an RBI as Pottstown scored the most runs it has had all season. It also marked the second straight game that the mercy-rule did not have to apply after the first ten losses ended in the sixth inning or sooner.

“We’re getting there,” two-year starter Terri Chestnut said. “Our defense is definitely way better. We cover more ground, we have a new catcher and she’s really good.”

That catcher being freshman Gianna Epps. Epps finished the game 2-for-4 with one run scored as Pottstown tried to whittle down a 7-1 first-inning deficit. The Trojans put together a two-run sixth and had the game-tying run at the plate before PJP pitcher Jess Schoeffling (six innings, two earned, five strikeouts) got her to ground out to second to end the inning.

“It felt good to contribute,” Epps said. “The last couple of games I’ve been doing good. The first couple I wasn’t making contact at all. It felt really good to make contact and get some hits.”

Epps’ single in the second was enough of a catalyst to get the first run across for the Trojans after Miranda Swinehart doubled to deep left to make it 7-2. Then her teammates stepped up in the sixth as Cambers provided a timely two-out single to plate Brianna Gribble while Lexi Volinski scored off a PJP error.

“We’ve been increasing our hits and runs each game,” Epps said. “Our errors have been less and less each game. Right now we’re just improving. Our freshmen are improving and I try to help them as much as I can.”

And with playoffs out for both teams, it’s games like these that will dictate the future for both programs.

“We’re just putting in 100 percent because this program is going to be going up in the next couple of years,” Moroz said. “We put in our work now and it’ll pay off later.”

Maybe with a PAC-10 playoff berth.

NOTES — Pottstown pitcher Miranda Swinehart settled down after allowing seven runs and 10 hits in the first as she scattered nine hits the rest of the way and allowed one earned. … Chestnut’s arm was on display early in center as she threw out Horgan trying to advance home on a sacrifice fly in the second.

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