Former Belle Vernon softball star 5th woman to join Mon Valley hall of fame
Heather Ferrari Milkent will soon be the fifth female member of the Mid-Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame and helped Robert Morris University's softball team win four consecutive Northeast Conference championships.
A 1990 graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School and native of Fayette City, Ferrari Milkent will join Suzy Williams Broadhurst (1999), Ashley Totedo (2004), Gina Naccarato (2005) and Donna DeMarino Sanft (2008) as women inductees.
Selections for the MMVASHOF began in 1951 and no selections were made from 1978 through 1995.
“I cried,” said Ferrari Milkent about her initial reaction when she found out about her upcoming honor this June. “I was and truly still am at a loss for words. When you look at the names of the people in this, it's such an incredible honor. It's amazing.”
Ferrari Milkent was a three-time section player of the year at Belle Vernon and was the first female student-athlete Leopard to receive an NCAA Division I scholarship in softball.
At Robert Morris she played shortstop and left field from 1991-94 under then first-year head coach Craig Coleman. He is now in his 24th year as the Colonials head softball coach and ninth as athletic director.
Coleman explained that Ferrari Milkent's softball background was mostly in slow pitch, which added to the already challenging transition from high school to going away to college. He compared Ferrari Milkent's adjustment from slow pitch to Division I softball as “going from a beer league to Major League Baseball.”
“High school softball in the area back then wasn't as strong because there were no fast-pitch travel teams in the area,” he said. “Heather and really no local player at that time had received the background or training in fast-pitch that you would expect for a kid to play in college and be successful.”
Recruited solely for her defensive skills, Ferrari finished her four-year career owning eight school career records and is still listed in 11 different categories in the school record book 20 years later. She finished with a .335 batting average with 179 hits, 118 runs, 22 doubles 11 triples, 16 home runs, 102 RBI, 42 walks and 41 stolen bases.
Ferrari Milkent helped a program that had never achieved a winning season win four straight NEC titles with a 119-62 (.657) cumulative record.
The 1994 Colonials attained the team's first-ever national ranking (24th) and advanced to an NCAA Division I play-in round, losing a pair of 2-1 games to the University of Maine.
Ferrari Milkent was the MVP of the 1993 NEC tournament and became just the second softball player to be inducted into the Robert Morris Hall of Fame, receiving that honor in 2000.
“We knew she would be a great defensive player but didn't know how she would pan out as a hitter, and she turned out to be one of the greatest hitters we ever had,” said Coleman.
The veteran coach said Ferrari Milkent had tremendous power and was very aggressive at the plate.
“Her home runs were noteworthy because many of them never went more than about 8 feet off the ground,” he said. “They were hit so hard and were not these high bombs but just line drive lasers that went over the fence.
“She was an exceptional player.”
Ferrari Milkent not so surprisingly praised Coleman. She pointed out that when he started as Robert Morris' coach he was also the director of Western Psych at the University of Pittsburgh. After a full day of work and a three-hour softball practice he would also help her study for a mathematics statistics class.
“I can't say enough about Craig, and he is the finest coach I know,” she said. “From a softball perspective, he is a mastermind who broke the game down to such a finite level and molded us into fine players. But he did so much for us as people and cares so much about his players. He helped me mature and grow up off the field probably even more than on it.”
Ferrari Milkent earned her bachelor's degree in communications from RMU in 1994 and for the past 20 years has worked as a lead business analyst for PNC Bank. She lives in Carroll Township with her husband, George, and 20-month-old daughter, Megan.
A loyal alumna to both Belle Vernon and Robert Morris, Ferrari-Milkent served as an assistant coach for several seasons in the early 2000s under longtime Leopards coach Tom Rodriguez. While coaching she practiced the “paying it forward” concept by informing Coleman of another standout Leopard softball player, Brooke Panepinto.
Panepinto would become a three-time all-NEC player and four-year starting outfielder for the Colonials from 2006-2009. She finished with a .345 cumulative batting average, 21 career home runs and batted .398 in 2007.
“Heather was a mentor to Brooke during her high school days and let me know about her,” Coleman said. “We brought Brooke in her senior year for an unofficial visit largely due to Heather's recommendation.”
Though she went on from Belle Vernon to star collegiately in Moon Township, Ferrari Milkent speaks passionately about her Mon Valley upbringing.
“I'm a valley girl at heart,” she said. “My dad was a steel worker. I was gritty, tough, and always have played with a Mon Valley mentality.”
The 2014 MMVASHOF inductee-elect is grateful that her softball career enabled her to travel to many different parts of the country but believes the Mon Valley is a part of wherever life's journeys take her.
“I am very proud of where I came from and what the Mon Valley stands for, which is good people that are working hard to get by, and I always tried to represent that on the field,” she said.
Bruce Wald is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.