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Roster moves, win over North Allegheny sparked North Hills softball

| Saturday, May 20, 2017, 12:40 a.m.

Entering this season, the North Hills softball team figured it would be good, coming off a WPIAL playoff appearance and having lost just one player to graduation. But the Indians began 2-4 in section play and 4-8 overall.

The talent hadn't gone anywhere. And players were hitting, coach Libby Gasior said. But run production didn't follow.

A series of position changes helped North Hills bounce back after losing its first two section contests and defeat North Allegheny on April 13, 11-4, on the road.

“That was kind of the turning point for us,” Gasior said. “The expectations shifted in a dramatic way.”

Though a three-game losing streak followed that shift, North Hills had found its groove. The Indians finished fourth in section, after going 3-1 and 7-3 the rest of the regular season, to return to the playoffs for the second straight year. They then earned the program's first postseason win since 2010 in what was also their first come-from-behind victory all season. The run ended with a close 3-2 defeat in the WPIAL quarterfinals to undefeated top seed Hempfield.

Winning at NA caused team members to realize their season was far from over, if they desired.

“The had their backs against the wall,” Gasior said. “They decided they wanted it and went and played as hard as they could.”

Before any of that happened, though, North Hills needed to make moves.

Senior shortstop Mekenzie Saban said opponents knew well how incumbent starting pitcher junior Anna McNickel pitched and hit her accordingly. McNickel also suffered a leg injury that affected her effectiveness, Gasior said.

Senior Megan Hitchan had, a week or so before that pivotal victory over North Allegheny, expressed a desire to pitch. She had pitched extensively at the varsity level as a freshman, she hadn't returned since due to an injury at the end of that year.

“We just felt like something needed to change,” Gasior said. “It wasn't anything necessarily that Anna was doing wrong.”

Prior to the same game, Saban moved from shortstop to third base, Madison Posterivo slid from second base to shortstop and Kallie Kretzler went from third base to second. Gasior said the shift happened in anticipation of the heavy ground-ball traffic Hitchan's pitching would cause.

A three-game losing streak, entirely on the road, followed. But the offense stayed, as did Hitchan in the circle. North Hills ended the season by going 8-6.

“Megan definitely brought a fire to that position that we needed,” Gasior said. “Megan has the ability to give up hits but keep us in games in terms of ground balls. She pitches to contact in a way that is successful for our defense.”

Hitchan finished 6-3, 4-2 in section play.

Though seniors Saban, Hitchan and Hayley Behr will graduate, the rest of the team should return next season. Additionally, the North Hills middle school team went 16-1 this season and lost only three games over the past two seasons.

“The future's really bright,” Gasior said.

Jasper Wilson is a freelance writer.

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