Despite a pair of superb individual performances from Rachel Ensslen and Liv Hessling, Wallenpaupack Area's varsity softball team was eliminated from this year's District Two title quest. The Lady Bucks visited the Electric City Thursday evening, but short-circuited in a 9-5 Class AAAA loss to Scranton.
Rachel Ensslen has only been catching for two years now.
In fact, she didn’t play organized softball at all as a seventh and eighth grader, choosing to run track instead.
When Rachel decided to try out for Wallenpaupack Area’s varsity team as a freshman, rookie skipper Brian Minich asked her if she could catch. Being a typically fearless frosh, Ensslen said she’d give it a whirl.
“I wasn’t really sure about it at first,” Rachel told TWI Sports. “But, the more I practiced, the more I liked it. I like being involved in every pitch. It helps me to stay focused all game long.”
Coach Minich and local diamond fans are certainly glad Ensslen decided to try. In a little less than two full seasons, she’s already developed into a first-rate backstop.
“I’m very happy with how fast Rachel’s come along,” said Coach Minich. “She blocks the ball well, has a strong arm and works well with out pitchers.”
Ensslen was behind the plate Thursday evening in the Electric City when Paupack battled Scranton in a quarterfinal District Two play-off game.
Rachel turned in yet another solid effort, both offensively and defensively. Sadly, she proved to be one of just a few bright spots on an otherwise gloomy day.
The Lady Bucks handed the Knights three early runs, then never fully recovered en route to a disappointing 9-5 setback.
With this loss, Paupack was eliminated from the Class AAAA title chase. The local lasses closed out their campaign with a 6-16 overall record.
“Hey, we went from zero wins last year to six wins this year,” said Coach Minich. “That’s a pretty good improvement. I’m disappointed that we lost here today, but I’m looking forward to next year.”
And with good reason.
The Lady Bucks lose just one senior to graduation. In addition, Paupack has a large crop of talented junior high players waiting in the wings. Without question, the future is looking bright for the Purple People.
With the win, Scranton advanced to the D-2 semifinals. The Knights will journey to Milford next Tuesday for a battle with top-ranked Delaware Valley. The Warriors drew an opening round bye and boast a record of 11-3.
About an hour before gametime, Carley Gustin let it be known that she wasn’t feeling well...at all.
This was a serious blow to Paupack’s upset ambitions because Gustin is the team’s ace hurler.
Carley is a fireballing southpaw with an imposing 6-foot frame who strikes fear into the hearts of enemy hitters.
On Thursday, though, Gustin had all she could do to keep her queasy stomach quiet. Carley drank some Gatorade, put on a brave face and fought her way through six grueling frames.
“The nice thing about Carley is that she keeps getting better every time she pitches,” Coach Minich said. “She wasn’t feeling her best, but she still went out there and gave it her all.”
Ensslen agreed with her skipper’s assessment, pointing out how calm, cool and collect-ed Gustin is on the hill.
“We have a really good relationship on the softball field,” Rachel said. “What I like best about Carley is that she doesn’t get too high or too low. When she strikes somebody out, she doesn’t get too high on herself. She stays focused and goes on to the next batter.”
Gustin gutted it out for all seven innings and a complete game. Scranton touched her for 13 hits and nine runs, but just six of those were earned. Carley struck out three and walked five on the day.
At the Plate
Offensively, Paupack was paced on Thursday by the hot hitting of Ensslen and centerfielder Olivia Hessling.
Rachel bats clean-up for the Lady Bucks. She enjoyed a 2-for-4 day at the dish, roping a pair of singles. Ensslen also scored a run and drove in another. This was a welcome development for a player who’d been struggling a bit recently.
“I practiced my swing alot this week,” Rachel said. “I worked on keeping my hands back more and driving my hips through. I opened up my stance a little and that’s helping me see the ball better.”
Hessling is the Lackawanna League’s newly crowned batting champion. Liv arrived in the Electric City with a dazzling .551 average...and she did nothing to tarnish it against Scranton’s Taryn Naughton.
The Knights’ hard-throwing ace tried to blow a heater past Hessling in the top of the first, but Liv was waiting for it. Paupack’s lead-off hitter pounced and blistered a liner back through the box.
Incredibly, Naughton stuck her hand out blindly and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove. Liv wasn’t even out of the batter’s box before she realized she’d been robbed. Naughton smiled at her good fortune, but it was the only time she’d retire Hessling on this particular day.
Liv crushed a double into the leftfield corner in the third, then followed that up with a bullet single to center in the fourth.
Wisely, Naughton pitched around Hessling in the seventh and issued a walk. Liv scored a pair of runs in the game and earned high marks from her mentor.
“They were lucky to get her out the one time they did,” Coach Minich said with a grin. “Liv is really just killing the ball right now. She’s a fantastic hitter.”
Annie Vega and Riley Williams also chipped in with big hits for the Lady Bucks.
Vega laced a triple up the alley in right center and eventually came around to score. Williams contributed a stand-up double that chased home a pair of baserunners.
By the Numbers
Scranton took advantage of a sometimes porous Paupack defense early in the game.
The Knights tallied five runs in the first three frames, just two of which were earned.
“We have to learn not to throw the ball around,” said Coach Minich. “We played five really solid innings today, but we need to play all seven. That’s at the top of our list for next season.”
Hessling turned in the defensive Play of the Day in center.
Paupack’s versatile junior came charging toward the infield on a sinking line drive off the bat of Tina Seber. At the last possible moment, Liv dove headlong and made a spectacular catch. This outstanding effort saved at least one run and kept Paupack within striking distance.
The Lady Bucks tallied once each in the third and fourth, then tacked on three more in the top of the seventh. Ensslen and Hessling were the squad’s lone two-time hitters.
Scranton’s offense was paced by Naughton, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Score by Innings...
WAL (3-12) 0 0 1 1 0 0 3 - 5
SCR (8-7) 2 1 2 1 2 1 x - 9