SPECIAL DELIVERY: Princeton Day School junior pitching ace Nicole Auerbach uncorks a pitch in action last season. Last Thursday, Auerbach hurled a one-hitter as PDS topped Wardlaw Hartridge 10-0 in the state Prep B semifinals. The Panthers were slated to play Pennington on May 16 in the Prep B title clash.
Midway through the state Prep B softball semifinal last Thursday, Princeton Day School was clinging to a two-run lead over Wardlaw Hartridge.
PDS head coach Holly Fewkes wasn't worried, though, confident that it was only a matter of time before her sizzling club broke the game open.
Sure enough, the Panthers scored four runs in the fifth and then closed the game out under the mercy rule with three in the sixth to earn a resounding 10-0 victory.
With PDS improving to 12-3 on the year with eight wins in its last nine games, Fewkes has gotten used to seeing her club coming through.
"It took us a few innings to get our bats going," said Fewkes, whose top-seeded club was slated to host local rival and No. 2 seed Pennington on May 16 in the state Prep B championship game. "Once we did, everybody contributed. We hit the ball hard; it wasn't a matter of them making errors. Up and down the lineup, I'm confident in all nine batters."
Fewkes has a lot of confidence in senior shortstop and team captain Cait McPhaden, who provided the crowning blow against Wardlaw when she slugged a three-run homer to end the game in the sixth.
"When Cait comes to the plate, good things happen," asserted Fewkes, who is in her first year at the helm of the Panther program after being an assistant coach the last four seasons.
"It was great to see her get that walk-off homer. She's had a lot of big hits for us but she hasn't had a homer or a triple in that situation yet this year and I knew she was capable of doing that."
McPhaden's leadership has been as important to PDS this spring as her clutch bat. "Cait's a two-year captain," added Fewkes, who also got RBIs from Emma Morehouse, Nicole Auerbach, Elisa Cichonski, and Hannah Tamminen in the win last Thursday.
"We have a young team and she has really stepped up. She leads the infield and also helps the outfield. She's been playing great on defense; she has great range. She goes behind third and and she cuts things off up the middle; I don't know how she does it sometimes."
Under the influence of McPhaden, such players as Tamminen and Cichonski have developed into key contributors. "Hannah at second and Elisa at catcher have both improved defensively," said Fewkes. "They have also come through at the plate for us."
Probably no player has come through more this spring for the Panthers than junior pitching ace Auerbach, who struck out 11 and gave up just one hit in blanking Wardlaw.
"Without her, I don't know where we'd be," said Fewkes. "She has that straight-faced, deadpan look on the mound and she just gets the job done. If we need a ground out she gets it; if we need a strikeout she gets it. She gives confidence to the others; everybody's believing in her."
The Panthers are believing that they can close the deal and overcome Pennington to get a title. "We know they'll be ready to play," said Fewkes, whose club edged the Red Raiders 1-0 and 3-2 in the teams' two regular season meeting. "They will be hungry but so will we; we want that championship."
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