Softball teams usually improve by midseason.
But after watching his Mount Hebron Vikings drop a 13-4 decision to visiting Liberty, Hebron coach Harry Reese rejected that logic.
"We're not getting better. We're getting worse," said Reese, reacting to the sloppiness that marked Monday's two-hour, 20-minute marathon.
The Vikings (3-6), looking nothing like the team that competed for a county title last spring before earning a state playoff berth, stumbled through their ninth game with a litany of bad decisions, bad throws and bad base running.
Liberty (4-4) enjoyed a clear edgein talent. The Lions also took what was handed to them. And the favors were plentiful.
The Lions pounded Hebron pitcher Jenny Joyce for 10 hits, including a home run and three doubles, but Liberty also benefited from eight walks and six Hebron errors. On top of those mistakes, the Vikings ran themselves out of two innings after falling behind early.
"It's a shame to have such a good core of players from last year's team and to be struggling like we are," Reese said. "I'm trying to put people in the right places. One of our problems has been getting everybody here at once. But I'm not even sure that would help."
Reese groped for the right combination Monday, shuffling outfielders Brandee Eckstrom, Adrienne Perry and Shannon Scott. That didn't stop the Lions, who took a 7-1 lead in the third inning and then cruised.
Meanwhile, Hebron already has nearly matched last spring'sloss total. Despite returning six starters from that 16-7 team, the Vikings still are trying to fill the hitting and pitching voids left by graduated Player of the Year Dawn Thomas. The Vikings are scoring only six runs a game, surrendering 11, and are averaging five errors.
Hebron managed only four singles against Liberty pitcher Brenda Timko, who gave the Vikings plenty of chances by issuing nine walks. And Joyce, while pitching better than the score indicated, showed how tough it can be for a freshman to compete at the varsity level.
"She (Joyce) has got unlimited potential," Reese said. "She's only giving up a couple of earned runs each game, but we're not getting her the outs. We're giving up four or five outs an inning. We don't make errors with nobody on base. Our errors kill us. And the first inning has been our worst inning."
The Vikings were true to form Monday. After Liberty's Keri Myers (3-for-3, four runs, two RBI) opened the game with a single, Michelle Smith (2-for-5, three RBI) doubled. Amy Wolff (2-for-5) then hit a grounder that Hebron third baseman Chris Milio failed to handle, allowing the bases to be loaded.
Liberty then took a 3-0 lead on, of all things, a seemingly routine groundout to shortstop Sandy Lewis. As Lewis threw to first base, Myers and Smith came around to score, and Hebron first baseman Chris Boone tried to throw out Wolff as she advanced to third. Wolff never stopped running, as she barely beat Milio's relay throw home.
Darlene Marsiglia andTimko then hit back-to-back doubles to give Liberty a 4-0 lead before Hebron had batted.
The Vikings got a run back in the first when Lewis walked, took second on a sacrifice bunt by Joyce, moved to third on a fly ball by Angie Kress and scored on Milio's two-out single.
But Hebron committed two more errors in the third inning -- one ofthem by Kress, the top returning starter and arguably the county's best catcher -- as Liberty increased its lead to 7-1.
By then, the Vikings had erased two scoring opportunities with careless base running.
In the second inning, Chris Machiran tried to score on an overthrow at third base, but was gunned down by Smith, who was backing upthe play in shallow left field. And in the third, Scott tried to score from third on a wild pitch, but was tagged out by Wolff, who played the carom off the backstop perfectly. Liberty committed just two errors.
"We're rebuilding. We're just a couple of players short of avery good team," Reese said. "We only graduate two seniors this year. After this team plays together for a couple of years, they'll work themselves into something good."