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Trib Cup: Consistent hitting, defense helping Elizabeth Forward softball toward another postseason run

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 11:44 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Forward's Portia McBride took to the mound against West Mifflin on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at West Mifflin Field.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Forward runner Caitlyn Arico crosses home as Southmoreland catcher Kelsey Kuhns waits for a throw during their April 5, 2013, contest in Alverton.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Tribune-Review
Third baseman Ashley Baker is part of an Elizabeth Forward offense scoring more than six runs per game.
Elizabeth Forward third baseman Ashley Baker throws out a West Mifflin runner Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at West Mifflin Field.

The Elizabeth Forward softball team is not going to sneak up on anyone this season.

The Warriors shocked the WPIAL by winning 17 games and making it to the Class AAA finals last season, and they return seven starters who hope to make a return trip.

They've carried that momentum into this year and are off to an 9-2 start overall and 6-2 mark in Section 3-AAA after beating West Mifflin, 2-1, in eight innings Thursday afternoon.

While the team still is on pace to replicate last year's run, coach Harry Rutherford said it is far from a guarantee.

“We're in a good position at the (midway point), but we'll still have to have our A-game every game,” he said. “The top four teams in the section are battling tough, so it's far from a done deal.”

This week, the Warriors softball team is featured for its role in helping Elizabeth Forward to a seventh-place standing in Class AAA for the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award.

Rutherford said the main reasons the Warriors are near the top of the section are the team's consistent hitting and improved defense. Factor that with an experienced group, and Elizabeth Forward has the mold for a WPIAL-title contender.

“The biggest thing we've done to make the season easier for us is we're playing better defense, cutting errors down,” he said. “I think our offseason training has really helped us improve, too. We're hitting the ball harder than we have in the past.”

Senior pitcher Portia McBride was thrust into her role as the ace last year because of injuries. This year, she's picked up where she left off and has been dominant.

“This year, we handed her the ball and expected her to step up, and she's done that, and she's still learning to pitch in certain situations,” Rutherford said. “She's still learning to pitch in situations where she needs to learn to waste a pitch or hit a curve ball and not that big fat pitch. But so far, she's done great.”

Seniors Katelyn Shinavski and Virginia Roche bring leadership to a team heavy with juniors, including Jen Keefer, McKenna Kern, Ashley Baker and Courtney Hrabosky — who have been catalysts on offense. The young players, including sophomores Caitlyn Arico and Kelsey Benedek, have filled in and shown promise for the years to come.

The Warriors are averaging just over six runs per game, and Rutherford attributes the lively bats to heavy-dose of offseason work.

“The kids did a lot of work over the winter in the weight room to put on some muscle to hit the ball harder,” he said. “We've had our explosions on offense where they've rallied off each other. That's helped us a lot as a group.”

The Warriors escaped the cold days of March in Pennsylvania and went to the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Rutherford was able to gauge where they lacked or would excel in preparation for WPIAL competition.

“The spring training trip to Myrtle helped give us the chance to get in a groove together and beat this weather and get outside and play,” Rutherford said. “We got down there, and we let them know it was a time for play. We got down there and had to get out, get busy with practice, a game for both varsity and JV and work.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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