Saturday March 12, 2022 | 4:35 p.m.
His outdoor softball team for a practice on the fourth day of preseason practices, a day before a winter storm hit the area, Jim Armstrong panned the muddy field at Franklin Regional.
He squinted at the bright afternoon sun and smiled.
“It’s a lovely little group of kids we have,” Armstrong said. “We’ve got talent, and it’s a great girl group. I think we can be pretty good.
Franklin Regional graduated just three seniors from a 10-7 squad that reached the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals.
But discussions around this year’s squad focus more on what they’ve won than what they’ve lost.
An influx of young talent will look to partner with proven players to help the Panthers push the return of WPIAL and PIAA runner-up Armstrong to Section 1.
“Armstrong has been on our minds,” Coach Armstrong said. “The girls joke around and call me River Hawk. I have to change my name, or Armstrong has to change theirs.
One player to watch is rookie Toryn Fulton, a powerful presence who can play anywhere on the court but will likely end up in the outfield.
The 6-footer showed off her athleticism on the basketball court this winter, but softball might be her best sport.
“Our outfield is pretty stacked,” senior left fielder Kamryn Marcus said. “We have so many young players coming. We all have such strong (sporting) backgrounds. I think we will be a very strong batting team.
Armstrong thinks his outfield could be one of the best in the WPIAL.
Rookie Cierra Camacho is also promising at second base.
“I think we can go pretty far,” said Fulton, daughter of former Penn Hills star Billy Fulton, who played briefly with the New York Yankees. “We all get along well together. I feel welcomed, not out of the circle.
Offensively, the Panthers could pack a punch.
Junior first baseman Madison Nguyen returns after hitting .451 with eight home runs, 29 RBIs and 17 runs. Junior Sydney Jackson, who also features in the outfield mix, hit .403 with 20 RBIs, and senior Alisa Kane is back at No. 3.
Junior Carli Ramchandran will be the top pitcher. She drove 13 last season.
“She was in line to be our No. 1 last year, but Makinzie DeRiggi pitched well and took that spot,” Armstrong said. “We will depend a lot on Carli and what she does in the circle.”
The Panthers are also returning to senior infielder Erin Hanes and junior Alexa Patberg.
“Losing the girls we’ve lost is huge,” Armstrong said. “But there is replacement value there. The younger girls are doing good things.
Another freshman looking to contribute immediately is Sierra Downs. Junior shortstop Tait Ramchandran returns from injury.
The Panthers will play three games and a scrimmage in Orlando, Fla. to start the season. When they get home, they’ll open Section 1 against, yes, Armstrong.
“Having Florida right before Armstrong is perfect,” said Marcus, who scored 14 points as a junior. “We are going to play with great teams and hopefully have as much momentum for them.”