BELLEFONTE — Bellefonte coach Gregg Kohlhepp has seen his players struggle as freshmen and sophomores throughout the years.
They’ve had off days in the field and with the bat before finding their confidence. But Wednesday, a pair of freshmen came through with big performances to lead the Lady Raiders to a 12-2 win over Penns Valley. Center fielder Angela Capparelle cleared the bases in the first inning to give Bellefonte an early four-run lead, and pitcher Tara Baney hit cleanup and drove in four runs, including the final two to end the game in five innings.
“When you have the kind of talent we have with our sophomore and freshman levels, they can step on the field and play,” Kohlhepp said, “Whatever it takes, it earns their stripes.”
Capparelle and Baney did that against the Lady Rams. Capparelle finished 1-for-3 with a stolen base. Baney threw 3 1/3 innings and battled through early control issues to close out the win in addition to going 3-for-3 with a triple. Bellefonte’s young talent and experienced returners had Kohlhepp excited about his team after the win. Senior Vanessa Cooper went 4-for-4 with a double, and senior Olivia Ripka went 3-for-4, while junior Stevi Confer went 2-for-4 and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief.
Penns Valley’s young team couldn’t keep pace with Bellefonte. The Lady Rams only managed four hits and made costly mistakes defensively. Ashley Struble went 2-for-2 with two doubles to lead Penns Valley.
“We start four freshmen, and we made a lot of freshmen mistakes tonight,” Penns Valley coach Don Lucas said. “We just need to get a little better in the outfield, and we’re young out there. When you have youth on your team, you’re going to go through growing pains. It’s a situation where you have to be very patient.”
The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but Bellefonte responded in the bottom half.
Cooper, Ripka and Confer singled to load the bases. Baney drew a walk to tie the game. After a strikeout, Capparelle stepped to the plate.
She fell into a 1-2 hole, but fouled off three straight pitches before lifting the ball to right field that dropped in. Penns Valley’s missed diving attempt allowed three runs to score. The Lady Raiders led 4-1.
Caparelle’s seven-pitch at bat grabbed momentum for Bellefonte.
“We’re fortunate we get to coach her in summer ball, in fall ball, whenever she wants to be around with a bat and glove in her hands,” Kohlhepp said. “So we’re very used to her and know she can come through big. Her making the varsity team, we’re very excited about. We think she’s gonna be a contributor and you saw the kind of battle she has. She’s a very even-keel kind of kid and just works and understands what it takes and doesn’t get upset by having two strikes.”
Her fellow freshman, Baney, lost her control and allowed consecutive walks with one out in the top of the second.
Kohlhepp called for Confer in relief, knowing he planned to bring Baney back later. Confer immediately gave up a double to Struble. One run scored, but Bellefonte gunned down Penns Valley’s Elizabeth Brooks at the plate. And Confer forced a pop up back to her to strand Struble at third and hold onto Bellefonte’s 4-2 lead.
“It was a pretty easy call when she lost control there a little bit to bring in Stevi,” Kohlhepp said, “who has a little bit more experience, can handle the situation, the runners on base and understands that even giving up a big hit to Struble – Struble’s a heck of a player, she’s one of the best I think we’ve seen. And she understands and comes back from that and still works on getting outs at that point and doesn’t let the one hit just take her out of the game, either.”
Baney returned to the circle in the top of the fourth and pitched two scoreless innings.
She also drilled a triple to right-center field to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Then, she ended the game with her bat, singling up the middle to cap a four-run inning.
“In the beginning I was kind of nervous because it was my first year on varsity and I’m a freshman,” Baney said. “But my teammates they just picked me up to say, ‘Hey you can do it, you can run with them, you can do this.’”