After winning the WPIAL championship in 2014, the Thomas Jefferson softball team failed to advance to the postseason last year.
But this season, standing in first place in Section 3-AAA with a perfect 10-0 record, the Jaguars (13-1) are hoping the year ends much like it did two seasons ago.
“It’s been like a rebound year for us,” Thomas Jefferson coach Heidi Karcher said.
“We just missed a couple great opportunities last year, the girls I think realized that,” she added. “This year they didn’t want to let another opportunity pass them by, so they’ve been working really hard.”
Clinching the Section 3-AAA crown — their first section title since 2002 — Thomas Jefferson is highlighted as this week’s Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and is a big reason why the Jaguars are tied for fifth place in the Class AAA standings.
According to senior shortstop Rachael Bowers, this year’s team got off to a good start at its annual season-opening trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. at the Ripken Experience tournament.
Not only did it post a successful 3-1 record at the tournament, but maybe more importantly set a precedent for how the Jaguars would approach the rest of the season.
“The most important thing I think that helped us as a group is when we went down to Myrtle (Beach),” Bowers said. “The team bonded and that really helped to show that we can do this, it’s a new year, and we went one game at a time, one game a time, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.”
Thomas Jefferson has been paced by a solid lineup, one that features impressive hitting stats all the way through the order.
Junior outfielder Sydney Flinn (.531 batting average) and junior third baseman/outfielder Lindsay Kalup (.512) lead the team in hitting, while Bowers (.362) and freshman catcher Haleigh Karcher (.537) pace the team in RBIs with 18 and 14, respectively.
Additionally, seniors Megan Fitzgerald (.342), outfielder Bayli Moon (.305) and Emily Scheidter have chipped in to form a potent lineup.
“We have a nice consistent lineup. … It’s a nice mix of players and different attributes that each batter has to offer,” Heidi Karcher said.
“The difference from last year to this year is by far the hitting. … We hit all the way through the order,” added Bowers. “If the top of the order isn’t hitting, the bottom of the order is pulling through.”
In the circle, the Jaguars are led by a pair of strong pitchers as senior Lacie Lautner is 9-1 with a 0.99 ERA, while junior Alysa Fairman is 4-0 with an ERA of 3.43.
While having such an impressive pair of pitchers is a luxury for any team, Heidi Karcher said the Jaguars are at their best when they can depend on Fairman’s elite defense in the outfield.
“It is very nice to have two good pitchers,” she said. “I’ve been relying a little bit more on Lacie right now, because defensively we are stronger when Alyssa Fairman is in right field. She has been playing outstanding in right field. … She has been crucial in some of our games.”
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Jaguars are hoping to emulate the success of their 2014 team. But in order to do that, Karcher knows that of all the things her team needs to focus on, maintaining its energy over the course of a long season could be the most important.
“I think we have to keep playing defensively like we’ve been playing,” she said. “Bats have to increase a little bit in terms of timeliness of hitting. … And I think the hardest thing to do is keep the energy up.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.