Every team in every sport across the board was hoping to have a spring season, before the PIAA put the kibosh on all athletics for the remainder of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But if there was one Lancaster-Lebanon League squad that was truly looking forward to this spring sports season, you could make a terrific argument that it was Lampeter-Strasburg’s softball team.
Coach Gene Charles and his Pioneers were set to return eight full-time starters from a team that went 28-2 and reached the PIAA Class 5A championship game last spring — one year after L-S went 23-5 and won PIAA gold.
L-S was tripped up by Penn-Trafford in last year’s finale, but the Pioneers had their sights squarely set on making a third straight run to the PIAA title game this spring.
“I’ve been playing with these girls for so long, even before high school,” L-S senior outfielder Summer Peters said. “So it feels so unfinished, not being able to have our last season together. I think we had another good chance to do well this year, which makes it even tougher to have to settle with all of this.”
Peters and fellow senior outfielder Julz Garber were all-league, first-team all-section and first-team all-state picks last spring, and they were due back to power the Pioneers’ offense, along with a who’s-who of local talent:
Senior first baseman Gabby Drumm (first-team section all-star), senior third baseman Taryn Hostetter, junior shortstop Chloe Blantz (second-team all-state, first-team section all-star), junior catcher Cam Byler (second-team all-state, first-team section all-star), junior second baseman Daisy Frank (second-team all-state, first-team section all-star) and junior outfielder Emily Platt (first-team all-state) — all wily vets who played key roles in the Pioneers’ success over the last two seasons, which culminated with a 51-7 record, plus state gold and silver trophies and the L-L title last spring, the fourth league crown overall for L-S.
All four seniors are slated to play softball at the next level; Garber at Delaware, Peters at Lock Haven, Drumm at Mansfield and Hostetter at Messiah.
“Needless to say we were excited for this season,” Peters said. “This year was going to be different, and we all felt that way. We were so excited for this.”
Only this season came to a crashing halt before it even got out of the gates, when the PIAA dropped the axe on April 9, after initially postponing the first couple of weeks of the season, in hopes of resuming at some point.
“My hopes were definitely up,” Peters said. “I think we were all kind of hoping that this was going to pass quickly. But obviously that wasn’t the case.”
“I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Garber said. “But I never would have believed that anything like this would ever happen. If you would have told me that our season and the rest of the school year would be canceled because of a pandemic, I never would have believed you.”
L-S had to replace all-star pitcher Brynne Baker this season, but sophomore Keiva Middleton was slotted to step into that role. With so much offense coming back, expectations were through the roof.
Garber, for one, had huge expectations for her final season. After all, she’s the third and final Garber sister to come through the program, and she wanted to cement all of their legacies with one last unforgettable season for the family.
Bri Garber, a senior infielder for West Chester, was the Rams’ all-time hits leader when the NCAA season was canceled earlier this spring. And Hanna Garber, a sophomore outfielder for Delaware, was hitting .347 when the Blue Hens’ season was shelved. Those two are all-time L-S greats.
Julz Garber, who will join Hanna at Delaware, had just recovered from a bout of mononucleosis and was cleared to play right when L-S was set to take the field this spring. So she was raring to go, and do big things.
“Our goal was to get right back to the state championship game,” Garber said. “Losing last year was heartbreaking, especially after what we did the year before, and what it felt like to win it. So our goal was to do everything we could to get back there and win that game.”
L-S certainly had the weapons to make that happen. Alas, like every other student-athlete and team dealing with the new normal, those dreams were dashed.
“Nobody was ready for something like this to happen,” Peters said. “Everything was just cut off. We’re missing our prom. We’re missing our graduation. We’re missing our season. It feels … I don’t even know how to describe it.
“I think I can speak for most, if not all, of the seniors when I say that this was supposed to be our time. This was supposed to be the best time of our high school career. So it’s pretty hard for us not to be able to go out and do the normal senior things.”
“I was mad at first,” Garber admitted. “I remember thinking to myself, what in the world did my senior class do for everything to be canceled like this? But the Class of 2020 will go down in history as the class that went through this virus pandemic. So I guess I can tell that to my grandkids someday.”