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Over the past several seasons, whenever the Central York and Dallastown softball teams squared off, you knew you were in for a real showdown.

The two have been at the top of the York-Adams League Division I standings each of the last five seasons, with the Panthers claiming outright Division I titles over the Wildcats during four of those years. Wednesday, the two met for the first time this season, again with Central tied for the division lead with Spring Grove, while Dallastown was just a half game behind.

Unlike in past meetings, when the games were nip and tuck, this time the Panthers showcased their superiority over the Wildcats, winning by mercy rule, 12-2, in five innings at Dallastown to remain tied atop the Division I standings with the Rockets.

"We just keep improving every game," Central head coach K.J. Livingston said. "We compete against ourselves, and like I've said before, it doesn't matter who the opponent is, we just focus on what we need to do to get better each and every game."

Facing one of the league's best pitchers in Wildcats sophomore Kelsie Merriman, the Panthers had little trouble producing runs. After Dallastown grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, Central responded with four runs in the top of the second, a run in the third, two more in the fourth and then five in the fifth to end the game early.

The dominance at the plate came from every part of the order too, with eight of the nine batters for the Panthers (10-1 overall, 7-1 Division I) registering a hit in the game, including a three-hit day from Briana Smith and two-hit games by Courtney Coppersmith, Taylor Sanders, Lorna Colberg and Natalie Craig. For the game, Central rattled off 14 hits, five of which went for extra bases.

"I think jumping on the first pitch and getting ahead in the count really helped us," Smith said about the Panthers' success against Merriman.

Smith led the charge with three RBIs, including driving in one in the fourth and then roping a two-out, two-run single in the fifth that plated the 11th and 12th runs that allowed the game to end early. In the bottom half of the fifth, the Wildcats (5-6, 5-2) looked like they were on their way to extending the game at least to the sixth when they got runners on second and third with one out. Instead, Coppersmith made a heads-up play in the circle, fielding a come-backer and firing to third base to get the trail runner and then Craig threw home to get the lead runner out at the plate to end the game with a 1-5-2 double play.

Strong defense, such as the play to end the game, helped separate the two teams on the day, according to Dallastown head coach Howie Merriman.

"I didn't think they'd get that many hits, but I also didn't expect as many errors (three) behind (Kelsie), and that's the real tell of the tale," he said. "Once you start trailing, you're playing catch-up the whole time, your mindset starts changing a little bit and I think we gave up a lot of runs unnecessarily."

Delaney Kolb provided the only offense for the Wildcats, driving in both runs on a pair of triples in the first and third innings.

Dallastown has some work to do if it wants to get back into the Division I race, but also if it wants to replicate last year's performance of making the state tournament.

As for the reigning Y-A League champion Panthers, aside from one slip up against rival Red Lion, they've looked virtually unbeatable this season. They hope to keep that rolling so that they're playing their best softball at the most important time of the season — the playoffs.

"Each and every game is played like it's a do-or-die game and we just want to keep playing better and better every game so we're peaking at the end of the season," Livingston said.

OTHER SOFTBALL

Spring Grove 2, South Western 1: At Spring Grove, Julia Wivell pitched a two-hitter and didn't allow any earned runs to get the win. She struck out 14 and walked four. Bryn Sporer had two hits and scored a run for the Rockets, who improved to 8-2 overall and 7-1 in York-Adams Division I.

Susquehannock 4, West York 3: At Glen Rock, Kendra Gemmill pitched a complete game to get the win, while Tyler Williams Allyson Koller, Gabi Almiroudis and Julianne Cassidy each had two hits for the winners. Cassidy had a triple. Paige Weekly and Brenna Harvey each had two West York hits. One of Harvey's hits was a double. Susquehannock is 5-5 overall and leads York-Adams Division II at 4-3.

Dover 4, Gettysburg 1: At Gettysburg, the Eagles scored three times in the top of the third to erase a one-run deficit and knock off the Warriors. Taylor Lamparter tossed a complete game for Dover, allowing two hits and striking out 12. The only run she allowed was an unearned run in the bottom of the first.

Hanover 9, York Tech 7: At Spry, Tech plated four runs in the bottom of the seventh but couldn't complete the comeback. Rachel Greene had two hits, including a homer, and scored five runs while driving in two for the winners. Mariah Hilbert pitched a complete game for Tech.

New Oxford 13, Red Lion 1 (6 innings): At Red Lion, Alana Molz pitched a one-hitter for New Oxford. That hit was a homer by Hailey Inguanti.

Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com.

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