Eckman, fifth inning rally lift Pottsgrove softball over Pope John Paul II

LOWER POTTSGROVE >> In their last matchup on April 3, Pottsgrove’s softball team was doomed to a one-run loss against Pope John Paul II in a 5-4 loss. And for much of Monday’s rematch, the same was true.

The Golden Panthers held a one-run lead through the first four and a half innings, doing just enough to inch ahead. But the Falcons found their bats in the fifth, pouring on three runs to rip the carpet out from under Pope John Paul II and dash off to a 6-2 win on their own field.

“I feel we had some innings where we were in our heads and at the point where we were a little nervous,” Pottsgrove pitcher Mikayla Eckman said. “Last time, we didn’t have many good hits. We just really came together as a team and got our energy up.”

Eckman struck out 11 and walked three in a complete-game two-hitter. With her fielders behind her, Eckman held the Golden Panthers (4-7, 3-3) to three 1-2-3 innings on the day. In two of those frames, Eckman tacked on two strikeouts.

The Falcons (7-6, 4-2) found their spark at the top of their order to ignite their comeback in the bottom of the fifth inning. Down 2-1, Bailey Pysher and Mackenzie Gray (2-for-2, three runs) led off with back-to-back singles.

PJP pitcher Abigail Millhouse (6.2 innings, eight hits, five strikeouts) got a strikeout for the first out before a walk loaded the bases. A fielder’s choice back to home plate delayed the damage, but a line drive to left-center from Adrianna Kennedy drove in two, putting enough in the bank for the lead.

“Being behind, it really pushed us to keep going and really score and step on it, make sure we secure the win,” Eckman said.

Emily Dougherty (2-for-3) added an RBI single to cap the three-run frame, taking a 4-2 lead for the Falcons into the sixth inning. From there, Pottsgrove found insurance with RBIs from Eckman and Hayden Pysher on a pair of base hits.

Abby Simmers was an early force for Pope John Paul II, plating both runs for the Golden Panthers. Leading off the game with a walk, the sophomore stole second base and worked her way to third on a fielder’s choice. Molly Houchins then doubled on a 2-2 count to right, scoring Simmers for the initial run of the contest.

“She had excellent plate awareness, understanding the strike zone, understanding what strikes are strikes, which ones aren’t and how to get on base,” Pope John Paul II coach Joe Ottaviano said. “That’s part of this game. You have to know how many strikes you have.

“You have to know how to work yourself onto a base, foul off bad pitches or close pitches. She has that and that’s why she was able to get on base as much as she did.”

Pope John Paul II’s Abby Simmers delivers a base hit against Pottsgrove during a PAC Frontier softball game at Pottsgrove High School on April 24. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

That awareness flashed once more two innings later. Tied 1-1, Simmers knocked a one-out single and worked her way to third base on a steal and wild pitch. Rylee Derecola then forced her in on a fielder’s choice, retaking a 2-1 lead for the Golden Panthers.

Simmers’ second run came in response to a game-tying sequence from the Falcons in the bottom of the first inning. Two runners got on with a walk and a single before a wild pitch advanced runners into scoring position. With an out to spare, Eckman grounded out to first base, forcing in Gray to equalize the game at a run apiece.

“Softball, sometimes it’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Ottaviano said. “We probably played one of our worst games that I’ve seen us play this year, and we were still winning 2-1 in the fifth inning. That’s how small that margin is for error. Once you start making those errors, it’s very, very hard to get back from that.”

To go with Pottsgrove’s three 1-2-3 frames from the field, the Falcons were without errors to two from Pope John Paul II. The crispness seen in the bottom frames has been a work in progress for the upperclassmen-heavy squad.

“A couple games previously, and in previous weeks, we’ve made errors a lot,” Pottsgrove coach Jessica Bedard said. “We’ve been really focusing on taking care of the softball and trying not to throw the ball around as much. Just essentially making the other team earn it.”

Pope John Paul II’s Rylee Derecola, left, advances to third base against Pottsgrove during a PAC Frontier softball game at Pottsgrove High School on April 24. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

Coupled with an Upper Merion loss to first-place Upper Perkiomen, the Falcons have flown up from third place to second in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier division.

Pottsgrove is also currently ranked No. 10 in District 1 Class 5A, within striking distance of returning to the opening round of the district postseason.

“I think this really boosts the confidence and puts the message out there,” Eckman said. “We are here, and we’re here to make it big and make a big moment.”

Pope John Paul II
ab r h bi ab r h bi
B. Pysher 2 1 1 0 Simmers 2 2 1 0
Gray 2 3 2 0 Derecola 2 0 0 0
McAllister 4 0 2 0 Murphy 3 0 0 0
Eckman 3 0 1 1 Houchins 3 0 1 1
H. Pysher 3 1 1 0 Bell 2 0 0 0
Kennedy 4 0 1 2 Millhouse 3 0 0 0
Dougherty 3 0 2 1 Satalin 3 0 0 0
Johnson 3 0 0 0 Fitzgerald 3 0 0 0
Kelly 3 0 0 0 Benicasa 2 0 0 0
Totals 27 6 10 4 Totals 23 2 2 1

2B — Houchins; Dougherty.

Millhouse 6.2 8 5 4 5 5
Dibricida 0.1 2 2 2 0 0
Eckman 7 2 2 2 3 11

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