Local stars shine on diamond

Players have success at the college level

Photo submitted by Penn State Altoona
Penn State Altoona’s Sarah Gearhart delivers a pitch. Gearhart, a graduate of Mount Union, is one of many local softball players succeeding at the college level.

Mifflin County High School product Hannah Ruby had hoped to pick up right where she left off last season with the Mount Aloysius College Mounties.

The Belleville native was a workhorse in the circle in 2018, putting together an 11-5 record with a sparkling 2.10 ERA and 94 1/3 innings pitched, leading the Division III school to its first Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference softball crown.

The Mounties also earned a bid to the NCAA Regionals.

“Being the first Mount Aloysius softball team to win the AMCC title will always be one of my fondest memories throughout my college softball journey,” said Ruby, a junior who will graduate in December with a degree in medical imaging. “Working toward that same goal this season and making it further into the regional tournament would be even better. That experience was proof that all of our hard work throughout the season paid off.”

Ruby was named to the all-AMCC section team as a pitcher. Her 11 wins were fourth-best in the conference, despite appearing in far few games than those above her. Ruby dominated conference opponents as she picked up seven wins with a 1.66 ERA.

“The biggest difference between high school softball and softball at the Division III level is the pace of the game as well as the number of games we play in a season,” Ruby says. “Being in the Mid-Penn in high school prepared me to play softball at the college level because we played against great competition, but the pace of the game seems to be so much quicker in college.”

Ruby also did well at the plate, batting .337 with two home runs and 17 RBIs. She was named to the all-tournament team for both the conference championships and the regionals.

“Although we had a great year last year as a team, personally my goal for this year is to improve my consistency on the mound and work to make a larger impact in the batter’s box,” Ruby says.

Ruby final season didn’t start the way she hoped. She left in the first inning after suffering an injury, allowing two runs and four hits in one inning in a 6-5 loss to Albertus Magnus. The Mounties rebounded to beat SUNY Poly in the nightcap. Currently, Mount Aloysius is 6-1 on the season.

“Although this season is going to be bittersweet because my softball career is coming to an end, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play alongside some of my best friends for one last season,” Ruby said.

Ruby is hardly alone as a local softball player who made the transition from high school to college. There are quite a few, actually.

Trojan tandem

Sarah Gearhart and Alexis Secrest were teammates while playing high school softball for Mount Union. In fact, they’ve been almost inseparable since youth leagues.

“I’ve been playing softball with Sarah since we were 5, so us continuing to play in college together is great,” Secrest said. “It’s good to have a familiar face around. She has been like family to me for a while now.”

The Trojan tandem has taken their game to Division III Penn State-Altoona this spring.

Having Secrest around has made the transition easier, Gearhart said.

“Honestly, it’s pretty awesome,” she explained. “We were always throwing partners. It’s just like having your best friend beside you again — just in a different uniform. It felt like nothing changed for us as friends and teammates.”

Both are out for the first time at the college level. Secrest, who played left field in high school, is a sophomore but opted not to play softball last season; Gearhart is a freshman.

The Lady Lions started 1-4 but have reeled off wins in six of their last seven games to improve to 7-5. Gearhart has sparked that turnaround, sporting a 2-2 mark with an 8.04 ERA and five strikeouts and seven walks in 15 2/3 innings.

Gearhart tossed a complete game in a 11-1 rout of Elms College that took only five innings. She struck out two and walked two. Offensively, she also went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

After getting roughed up in a 13-4 loss to Kenyon College, Gearhart rebounded to pick up the win in relief against Drew University. The Lady Lions scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning then watched as Gearhart held Drew scoreless.

Secrest has not played to date.

Their spring road trip to North Carolina and Florida was certainly different than traveling the Inter-County Conference circuit.

“Bus rides are always a hoot,” Gearhart said. “Usually a nap happens, snacks are a must, and sometimes we study if it’s not too much of a bumpy ride. It’s still early so I guess as of now, they’re not too bad!”

At first, Gearhart found it a bit strange seeing former ICC rivals sporting the same uniform at Penn State. A few of her new teammates hail from Moshannon Valley and Glendale. Others come from District 6 foes like Philipsburg-Osceola, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle Area.

“I thought it would be weird, until I realized because of travel ball, so many have been teammates, too,” Gearhart says. “It’s cool seeing local talent come together again. Even my teammates I’ve met this year have become some of the greatest friends I could ask for. We all just kind of meshed together.”

Secrest agrees.

“I think that playing and being on the same team as other players from the ICC is great,” she said. “Throughout my high school career, I have come to know them from the amazing athletic ability and now that we get to play together and grow our friendships, it’s really a great experience.”

Both have learned to manage their time, balancing schoolwork with a rigorous softball schedule.

“I think the biggest adjustment for me was being on my own, and not having ‘it’s time for practice’ or just going after school is out,” Gearhart explains. “I have either four hours or an hour until practice, so I had to learn to manage time and do my work.”

Gearhart and Secrest might have their eyes set on winning an AMCC crown, like Ruby did last year at Mount Aloysius College.

“A goal is to always get better, be a better teammate, and win AMCCs,” Gearhart says. “Being a freshman is hard in college no matter your major. I’ve encountered some difficulties, but I had to learn that I can do it and I have my teammates, family, and friends there rooting for me.”

Roher catches on

Former all-ICC catcher Diana Rorer is another Mount Union product who playing at the next level. Roher is a freshman at the University of New England, located in Biddeford, Maine.

The Division III Nor’easters compete in the Commonwealth Coast Conference. UNE is coming off a 17-20 campaign and finished fifth in league play with a 10-8 mark last year.

“I picked UNE for my animal behavior major because it’s one of the best schools for the major,” she said. “Another reason I chose UNE was after I visited … it felt like home away from home.”

It didn’t take long for Roher to see her first action. She struck out in the second game of a doubleheader with Swarthmore College, a 10-2 defeat. UNE dropped its first two games of the season before rebounding to beat Mount Saint Vincent, N.Y., and UMass-Dartmouth.

“We are just starting our season with spring training in Florida, but I imagine it’ll be a little comfier because of not taking a regular school bus and being squished between everyone’s gear,” Roher said.

UNE is 2-2 overall. Roher only has the one at-bat to date. She understands that she must bide her time, but she is ready to contribute when called upon.

“I have some goals to just become a better player by taking in everything that I’m told and just by watching,” she said. “There are a lot of good players on my team and a lot of things for me to still learn.”

Among the best

Brooke Louden is majoring in family studies, but the Greenwood High School product might consider changing to geology after all of the gems she has tossed this spring.

Louden, now a junior at Division III Bridgewater College (Va.), has gotten the starting nod four times, and four times she has been dominant from the softball circle.

Louden is 4-0 for the Eagles, with a miniscule 0.62 earned run average, striking out 12 and walking 6 in 22 2/3 innings. Overall, Bridgewater is off to 9-3 start to the 2019 campaign.

“The biggest difference between high school and college softball is the competition level,” Louden said. “Bridgewater is in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, which in my eyes is one of the most elite Division III conferences. The conference has many talented teams, including one (Virginia Wesleyan) that is a two-time NCAA Division III champion.

“That was a major difference coming from a very small high school to such a high-caliber level of competition,” she added. “I think making that step has made me learn a lot about the game of softball and grow into a better, more experienced player.”

Bridgewater opened the season by hosting Penn State-Altoona, whose roster included Gearhart and Secrest. The locals did not face each other in the twinbill.

“It is strange at times, especially because I decided to go to a college in Virginia, I never would have thought I would be playing against girls from rival high schools or even people who were former teammates,” Louden explains. “It makes you realize how small the world is. When we go on spring break to Florida, we play at lot of PA teams, which is always a surprise to me.”

The Eagles won the opener 8-0 as they chased Gearhart after four innings. She was charged with seven runs and walked two.

Louden pitched the second game, a 9-1 victory as Bridgewater swept the doubleheader. She went three innings, allowing one earned run, striking out three and walking none.

Louden earned her second win of the season after pitching all seven innings against Dominican University. She scatted three hits, struck out six and walked two in a 3-0 shutout.

Louden’s third and fourth wins were also both gems. She scattered four hits, struck out three and walked one in a complete-game victory over Mitchell College. Bridgewater rolled to a 19-0 win in five innings. Louden also helped herself out at the plate by going 1-for-4, with a double, RBIs and two runs scored.

In a 3-1 decision over Thiel College, she scattered six hits, gave up one earned run and walked two in 6 2/3 innings.

“The key to my pitching success in college is definitely relying on my teammates and being confident in myself,” Louden said. “The team I’m on is a very tight-knit group of girls and I couldn’t ask for better teammates and friends. I trust them on and off the field, which shows through my game.”

With a team ERA of 2.02, pitching is definitely one of the Eagles’ strengths.

Louden has worked hard to improve her game. Last season, Louden made 12 starts in 13 appearances for the Eagles. Finishing 5-5, she led the pitching staff with 32 strikeouts and seven complete games and finished second with 65 2/3 innings pitched. She also hit .370.

As a freshman, Louden started 14 times in 20 appearances, leading the team with 93 2/3 innings pitched and 38 strikeouts. She also tied for the team lead with four wins. Louden completed seven games and pitched at least six innings in four consecutive games.

Softball sightings

¯ Emily Bingman (Burnham/Mifflin County) and Analisa Yoder (Belleville/Mifflin County) are both freshmen at Division III Rosemont College, near Philadelphia. Both have started all eight games for the Ravens, who are off to a 1-7 start.

Bingman is hitting .240 with two doubles, four RBIs and six runs scored. She singled to center in her very first college at-bat of her first game, a 7-6 loss to Mitchell. Bingman also went 2-for-2 in a 10-1 setback to Elizabethtown. She has caught and played second and third base.

Yoder sports a .222 average with a triple, two RBIs and four runs scored. She went 1-for-4 in her first college game then hit 2-for-3 in an 8-2 loss to Houghton College. Yoder has played first base and outfield.

¯ Eleana Eckley (Lewistown/Mifflin County) is a utility player at Division III Messiah College. The freshman has not played in any games for the Falcons, who are off to a 4-2 start.

¯ Corissa Wagner (Millerstown/Greenwood) is a freshman utility player for Division III Medaille College, located in Buffalo, New York. She has started all four games for the Mavericks, with an .857 fielding percentage. Despite being hitless in nine at-bats, Wagner has scored two runs, walked once and stolen a base.

Medaille, which is a member of the AMCC along with Mount Aloysius and Penn State-Altoona, is 2-2 this season.

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