WOODSIDE — With eight seniors on the roster, the Delmar High softball team is a pretty confident bunch.
And coach Michelle Niblett says her players remind her of that when they see her during the school day.
“They’re like, ‘This is our year, Coach,’” said Niblett. “You always want to hear that but when they start proving it, it just leaves you flabbergasted.”
After posting a 6-2 victory over previously-unbeaten Polytech on Thursday afternoon, it would be difficult for anybody to argue that this isn’t the Wildcats’ season.
Delmar (9-0 Henlopen Conference, 11-2 overall) now own wins over two-time defending state champion Laurel, Sussex Tech and now Polytech in conference.
The Wildcats have only four Henlopen games remaining and none of those four opponents currently have winning records. That puts Delmar solidly in position to capture just the program’s second Henlopen title and first since 1990.
A pair of three-run innings — in the third and sixth — helped carry the Wildcats to the victory on Thursday.
“This is a great win just to stay on top,” said senior pitcher Alexis Layton. “And we all played with all our hearts. I believed in my defense, they believed in me and, obviously, we proved it on the field.”
But things certainly weren’t going Delmar’s way early on.
Polytech pitcher Shaina Reed, who finished with 11 strikeouts, struck out the side in the first two innings.
The Panthers then scored the contest’s first run in the bottom of the second when Taylor Pechin walked and came around to score when Kailey Perry sliced a single past shortstop.
The Wildcats, though, answered right back with their three runs in the top of the third. With two outs, Ashton Riddle bounced a two-run single through the infield.
Shelby Murphy then lined a single to left that scored Riddle to give Delmar a 3-1 advantage.
“I’m going to tell you, she’s the toughest pitcher we’ve faced yet,” Niblett said about Reed. “I think she’s the best in the state. ... So to be able to score six runs on her and to hold their team to two, that speaks volumes.”
Layton settled into a groove in the middle innings, retiring 10 straight batters in one stretch. The Wildcats then gave her three key insurance runs in the sixth.
Riddle had the big hit in that inning, too, hitting a smash down the line that ricocheted off Polytech’s third baseman and allowed two more runs to score.
That ended up being important when the Panthers got a rally started in the bottom of the seventh. Morgan Dodge hit a hard grounder off Layton’s foot off to score Amanda Waishes, who started the inning with a single.
Layton, though, got a flyout to end the game as the Panthers stranded two runners on base in the inning.
While things couldn’t be going much better for the Wildcats right now, Niblett knows they’ll have to face the same caliber of team in the state tournament.
But while she’s pushing her players to keep getting better, she also admits it’s been an enjoyable ride so far.
“I thought this would be a special year,” said Niblett. “We have eight seniors and they’ve played ball together for a lot of years.
“They just play together — just to watch them pick each other up, if they bobble it or they don’t do well at bat. This is a true team. Coaching them is just too much fun.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@newszap,com.