**Note: This article originally appeared on PaPrepLive.com**
CHELTENHAM >> Veata Blair-Kraybill, who earned second-team all-Suburban One League American Conference honors last year as a freshman, was unable to join her Cheltenham softball teammates on the field until last week due to injury. The sophomore is back with her fellow Panthers now, and in a big way.
“I’m feeling good,” Blair-Kraybill said after the game. “My arm is doing good for now. My leg is hurting a little. But it’s fine.”
Blair-Kraybill showed no signs of rust or fatigue, as she went 3-for-4 with three RBIs at the plate and struck out six in three innings pitched to lead Cheltenham to a 9-2 victory over Academy Park Monday.
“(Veata is) a great ballplayer,” Cheltenham head coach Ron Perlstein said. “She’s a lively player, she’s got a lot of pop. She’s an impressive girl. You watch Veata, you’re impressed by the way she plays.”
Blair-Kraybill, who stands no taller than 5’4”, also capped a three-run third inning for Cheltenham with a two-run homer to left field.
The sophomore also got her first taste of pitching at the varsity level against Academy Park, using the ability to change speeds well in recording her six punch-outs.
“I was so nervous when I stepped on that mound because it’s varsity level,” Blair-Kraybill said. “It’s like you’ve gotta play up with the big girls. It was nerve-wracking (but) it was good.”
The pitcher, whose natural position is second base, allowed just two runs (one earned) and earned a three-inning save.
Megan Smajda, who started the game pitching for Cheltenham, was not as overpowering as Blair-Kraybill but was even more effective.
“I like Megan because she’ll fall behind but she always fights back and then she’ll finish,” Perlstein said. “She can fall behind 3-0 then all the sudden she has a strikeout…She’s a senior, she’s a leader, and she’s tough and scrappy.”
Smajda pitched the first four innings for the Panthers, allowing just two hits. She also struck out five Academy Park hitters and walked four.
“I saw that I was getting a little wild and I just took a deep break and knew that I was capable of getting these girls,” Smajda said. “I just looked straight at what I need to do and focused and got my composure back.”
Both pitchers were also helped out by plenty of run support as well. Cheltenham took advantage of some Academy Park mistakes and jumped out to an 8-0 lead thanks to one run in the first inning, two in the second, two more in the third, and three more in the fourth.
“(Academy Park) helped us. It got us some runs real fast. It gave us a little confidence at the plate,” Perlstein said. “I thought we hit the ball well…the girls were aggressive; they took some chances, took some bases.”
In addition to Blair-Kraybill’s big day at the plate, Julia Williams picked up two RBIs with a single in the third. Madison Gianelle, Erin Kuchler, and Morgan Gianelle each added an RBI of their own as well. Blair-Kraybill, Kuchler, and Madison Gianelle each scored a pair of runs.
“It’s definitely a team sport and it’s good to know your team is aggressive on the field and at-bat,” Smajda said. “It definitely gives me an edge when I feel like I know I have the run support.”
Cheltenham (3-5, 1-3 SOL American) is off to a bit of a slow start this season, but getting an all-conference player back and picking up an easy win could be just what the doctor ordered for the Panthers.
“We do have a lot of young players,” Perlstein said. “We were a playoff-caliber team last year, the year before we won the conference. All of that has trickled down to these girls – they understand the level they have to play at to be successful.”
CHELTENHAM 9, ACADEMY PARK 2
Academy Park: 000 020 0 — 2 5 5
Cheltenham: 122 310 x — 9 12 5
WP: Smajda – 4IP 2H 0R 0ER 4BB 5K
LP: Armstrong – 6IP 11H 9R 5ER 0BB 4K 2HBP
S: Blair-Kraybill – 3IP 3H 2R 1ER 1BB 6K
3B: C-Gianelle, Mo.
2B: C-Gianelle, Ma.; AP-Armstrong
Academy Park: Armstrong 1-2, RBI, R, 2 BB; Goodyear 3-4, R
Cheltenham: Blair-Kraybill 3-4, 3 RBI, 2 R; Gianelle, Ma. 2-4, RBI, 2 R; Picone 2-3, R; Kuchler 1-4, RBI, 2 R; Williams 1-3, 2 RBI