by Tom Utescher
After finishing in the bottom of the half of the Friends Schools League softball rankings in 2012, Germantown Friends came in second during the regular season this year and then reached the finals of the league championship tournament.
In the league semifinals, the second-seeded Tigers fought past number three Abington Friends, 6-5, then in another one-run decision, they saw fourth-seeded Friends Central squeeze past them, 7-6, in the championship game on May 18. GFS ended its 2013 season with an overall record of 11-5.
The Tigers have never won the FSL title, and in the recent past they haven’t even appeared in the playoffs.
“We’d been struggling as a program for some time,” explained fifth-year head coach Susan Robinson. “This year we were able to put a really good pitcher out there [freshman Lizzie Becker], which is very important for any team. Beyond that, we had a lot of the same players who had been on the team before, but this year they had a different attitude, a different intensity level. You could even see that clearly in our practices.”
Ninth-grader Becker, who was the starting point guard for the GFS basketball team over the winter, threw a no-hitter in softball during the regular season, and was in the circle for both tournament games. After Abington Friends tied the Tigers in the top of the seventh inning in the semifinal contest, Becker doubled in the winning run in the bottom half.
In regular-season play, Germantown defeated Friends Central, 7-2, and wound up with a 6-1 record in official league games, its only setback coming against Friends Select. The Falcons of Friends Select, seeded first for the playoff, were upset by Friends Central, which went on to win the title.
“Our league broke down into two distinct halves this year, and it’s sort of been that way for a few seasons,” noted Robinson, “The difference for us was that this year we were able to get up into that top half. The top four teams were all very close, and it was actually the number four seed that wound up winning the tournament.”
Every few years, the Tigers take a pre-season training trip during Spring Break, and Robinson feels that their jaunt to Myrtle Beach this March was a valuable bonding experienced that helped the players focus on their goals for the season ahead. From the earliest stages, she observed an improved softball “IQ” among her charges.
“I found that I could coach at a different level,” related the Tigers’ skipper, who was assisted, as usual, by veteran coach Dana Griffin. “In practice I was able to work on details I’ve never been able to work on before. They had the basics down so quickly that I could move right on to the more advanced aspects.
“We were hitting faster pitching better than in the past,” Robinson went on. “We were hitting more consistently, and with more power.”
The senior starters on the team were infielder Isabelle Linguiti and outfielders Eden Beschen and Erica Heinz, while classmate Rebecca Blaich was the designated player and also made appearances in the infield.
Junior Becca Bateman was a pitcher and fellow 11th graders Rachel Allison (catcher) and Maddie Andrews (shortstop) were already well-established varsity players coming into the season. Adding additional depth and experience to the team were seniors Allison O’Connor and Lydia Wood, and junior Bridget Curtin.
A year ahead of the ninth-grade game-changer, Becker, was the strong sophomore class of Magda Andrews-Hoke, Hannah Safford, Liana Spiro, and Sophie Trotto. The last two became starters at first and second base, respectively.
Robinson pointed out, “My crop of sophomores had a senior and junior class ahead of them that forced them to elevate their game; that mentoring piece was finally in place. The older kids could see the talent in that 10th-grade class.”
It appears that more good things lie ahead for the Tigers, who return all but three starters from their groundbreaking 2013 squad.