The Gowanda Lady Panthers are off to an 8-1 start to the softball season, and while strong pitching and strong hitting throughout the lineup has contributed to the hot start, the Lady Panthers may also be playing with an angel in the outfield.
Just before the season began, senior team leader Jess Sowa's mother, Debbie, lost her battle with cancer. To honor Debbie, the Lady Panthers play with a ribbon in their hair with her initials.
"Jess is off to a great, great start," Gowanda coach Darlene Pfaffenbach said. "She plays every game for her mom. She will be our backbone. We battle and do it as a team. We know why we're playing this season. Her mom would have loved to see it. We do it for her and play with her in mind every game."
OBSERVER?Photo by Craig Harvey
Gowanda’s Jess Sowa looks to lay down a bunt Saturday during the Hae Jude Softball Tournament, which was held at Silver Creek High School.
OBSERVER?Photo by Craig Harvey
With the help of players like Rae White, above, the Gowanda Lady Panthers have started the varsity softball season 8-1.
While the team has been playing with extra inspiration this season, the strong start has also been in part to solid pitching and a good mix of youth and senior leadership.
Leading the youth movement are freshmen Dai': Di Jones and Rae White, who have both been strong on the mound so far this season.
"(Jones) didn't play last year, and I knew Rae was a special player," Pfaffenbach said. "I worked with a lot of them in middle school. I watched them in middle school and into high school."
Also helping is stability at the top, as Pfaffenbach enters her second year as coach and has no intentions of leaving anytime soon.
For a program who had three coaches in four years, it is a welcomed change for the players.
"You have to have good rapport with the players," Pfaffenbach said. "You can't just walk in and expect them to trust you. It helped we knew each other and what we expected of each other. You can't build any chemistry or trust with the players if you have different coaches. They know I am here to stay. Also, all the credit goes to (assistant coach) Lisa Maybee. She has been here through everything. She deserves a lot of credit."
Whether it be finding the right lineup combinations, or taking her team to Herkimer at the beginning of the season for a team-building getaway, Pfaffenbach seems to be pushing all the right buttons, but still gives credit for the hot start to her players and their dedication to the sport.
"I looked at them at the beginning of the season, and I said I know we have talent," Pfaffenbach said. "We have built on that. Did I think we would start 8-1? Not really. I thought we would be good. Girls like Sydney Gominiak, Rachel Greco and Halie Booth have all improved leaps and bounds from last year. Halie has worked so hard every day in practice. She has worked on her bunting, hitting, fielding - she has come a long way and is a senior starter. Taylor Olson is a starting pitcher. We have her the next couple years. She plays travel and contributes offensively, as well."
Despite losing to Fredonia on Saturday in the championship game of the Hae Jude Tournament, Pfaffenbach and the Lady Panthers know they are in the midst of a memorable season.