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Pitching coach sees proteges advance

| Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rich LeViere won't be in the dugout for Thursday's WPIAL softball championships at California (Pa.) University. He's been there enough.

He can cheer from the stands, soak in the games and see how much influence he's had over the game in Western Pennsylvania.

LeViere is a pitching connoisseur. His delicacies are the intricacies of the motion that he's come to master despite never having played in a competitive fast-pitch game in his life. But still, the girls flock to receive his tutelage as he may help them land a college scholarship, or a WPIAL championship.

Five pitchers -- four WPIAL and one City League -- have taken advantage of LeViere's expertise. Amy Joy of Ambridge (Class AAA), Heather Elsner of Shaler and Aimee Dassner of North Allegheny (AAAA) and Taylor Kimmell of Neshannock (AA), will pitch in their respective WPIAL championship games tomorrow. Jessica Stein from Carrick will face Brashear at 3 p.m. today for the City League championship at McGibbney Field as well, making for two hectic days on the road as he tries to see all of his girls pitch.

"It's going to be pretty tough for me to be everywhere," he said.

All played for LeViere on the Pittsburgh Spirit travel team's 18-and-under division that went 69-5 last summer en route to a NSA World Series appearance. He founded the Spirit about 15 years ago, which has divisions for girls as young as 10. But he's done more than that.

He coached at Northgate for 15 years, but when the area disbanded fast-pitch in favor of slow-pitch softball, he focused on the Spirit and began coaching baseball for North Hills, where he attended before graduating from Langley.

As a spectator, LeViere can be as loud as he is when he is coaching. But he'd better not be too loud. Last week, LeViere got tossed when he argued about a second baseman blocking the bag.

"I've been thrown out of games two times in my career and both times were protecting my players," LeViere said.

It wasn't even his player. It just felt that way. It was his daughter's player. Dana Pecanis, now the North Hills softball coach, was leading a 14-and-under playoff game. He asked for her to appeal a call, but the umpire didn't like suggestions coming from the stands.

LeViere tries to stay out of the way of the high school scene. He doesn't want to interfere with other coaches, but goes to the games as a fan and will do individual pitching sessions through the course of the season if they are requested.

"He definitely improved my pitching a lot last season," said Joy, the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year. "I picked up a lot of speed and a lot of control."

Joy pitched a perfect game against Belle Vernon in the semifinals and helped Ambridge win the PIAA and WPIAL championships last season. After Ambridge won the state title, Joy wanted to leave after the game to join LeViere's 18-and-under team, which was in Detroit. She wanted to drive up to meet the team and forgo the parade and celebration. That's the impact a coach such as LeViere has had on the more than 1,000 kids he's mentored over the years. He wouldn't allow it, though, advising Joy to savor the school's first state championship.

Joy will attend Pitt this fall, but not on a softball scholarship. Some Division III schools were interested, but she made her decision based on academics.

While LeViere will be rooting for Ambridge against Mars, the game between Shaler and North Allegheny splits his allegiance. Elsner and Dassner pitched together last year for his travel team. He doesn't care who wins, so long as each does well, enjoying any success they have this weekend, or in life, as a fan.

"Some of them get scholarships and that type of thing," LeViere said. "Any time you can be a little part of their success it's special. I'm pitching every pitch with them and enjoying the situation with them too."

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