It was the top of the fifth inning last Thursday and the Princeton Day School softball team trailed 13-1 as it hosted Morrisville High (Pa.) in its season opener.
But PDS sophomore pitcher Dina Alter was still firing away, challenging the opposing batters as though she were locked in a nailbiter.
She retired two hitters on groundout and the Panthers got the third out in a rundown to post a shutout frame.
While the Panthers failed to score in the bottom of the inning to end up losing 13-1 under the 10-run mercy rule, first-year had coach Paul Lano came away from the game admiring the pluck of his young hurler.
“I think Dina stood up to the challenge of a good hitting team,” said Lano.
“She showed maturity and she is a 15-year old sophomore. It is nice to have a pitcher that hangs in there like that. I kept checking with her and she said she was fine. When we don’t make plays, the innings last longer than they should have. That can be frustrating for a pitcher but it didn’t faze her.”
The Panthers have hung in there collectively as the team only has nine players on its roster.
“They are happy to have a team,” said Lano. “I told them before the game, this is your team, this is it. We are nine strong and they won’t take no for an answer. We are going to go out and play and take on all comers.”
The Panthers got some good play from sophomore co-captains Jess Toltzis and Tess Zahn in the opening day setback. Catcher Toltzis was a rock behind the plate, throwing out several runners while shortstop Zahn made some sharp plays in the field and contributed a single and the team’s lone run offensively.
“Jessica proved today that she is a great defensive team leader and Zahn gives us a spark,” asserted Lano.
“The team’s leadership is in good hands. Both captains are very vocal and encouraging which is nice.”
The play of sophomore third baseman Mary Kate Flemming was also encouraging; she looked good with the glove and pounded out a double.
“She made a change with her hands at the plate and she belts one deep to centerfield,” said Lano. “The left side of our infield is very strong.”
Lano acknowledges that the Panthers have a strong challenge ahead of them this spring.
“We have a lot of work to do; we need to work on the fundamentals,” said Lano, whose infield also includes senior Lily Halpern at first and freshman Katie Alden at second with the outfield featuring junior Netesa Bland, senior Gabi Phillips, and freshman Sabrina Matlock.
“We have a defensive system and they have an understanding of it. It is different from what they are used to but as they get better at it they will execute better.”
With the pitching battery of Alter and Toltzis, the Panthers have the core in place to get better.
“We have the centerpieces to build the program around, that is the hard part,” said Lano, whose club dropped to 0-2 with a 16-4 loss at Pennington last Monday and is next in action when it hosts South Hunterdon on April 9. “We can add pieces around them.”