Led by solid hitting, pitching, Latrobe leading Section 1

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:41 p.m.

Latrobe softball coach Richard Shaheen is hoping his Wildcats' 3-2 loss to Norwin on Tuesday serves as a wake-up call.

The first-year coach said his team came out flat and played flat, but by and large attributed the defeat to a relatively young group simply having an off day.

Those “off days” have been few and far between for Latrobe this season.

The Wildcats (9-2, 8-1) had been unstoppable over the past two weeks, winning five straight Section 1-AAAA contests, including a 3-1 victory over then-No. 1 ranked Hempfield.

Latrobe also posted lopsided wins against rivals Franklin Regional, 12-3, Connellsville, 9-0, and Penn-Trafford, 11-0.

Shaheen said he knew the cupboard was far from bare when he took over the reins this season from retired coach Bob Kovalcin, but he wasn't quite sure how things would shake out in the early going.

Latrobe finished 14-8 overall last season and advanced to the second round of the WPIAL playoffs.

“We knew coming in we had a lot of talent in the program,” he said. “But, it is also a fairly young team. We had about seven players in new positions. … You hope to get off to a great start, and we're grateful we did, but it's one of those things that you never really know how good you are or can be until you see kids perform in game situations.”

While the future certainly seems bright for the Wildcats, who have just four seniors on this year's roster, this year's team is showing signs of being a championship contender.

The key to this point has been a torrid hitting streak and solid pitching. The Wildcats have averaged seven runs per game while giving up just over two. Latrobe also has posted shutouts against Kiski Area and Penn-Trafford.

The Latrobe bats, led by senior shortstop Kaity Finley (.535), juniors Ashley Perillo (.410) and Shelby Noel (.486), and sophomore Jenna Adams (.475), have posed a nightmare for opposing pitchers.

“Every game so far we are just out-hitting our opponents,” Shaheen said. “Even the games we've lost, we've hit well. We've been able to do a lot of things well this year, but the strength of the team is definitely hitting.”

Shaheen has also received strong pitching from his “one-two punch” in Noel and Olivia Gumbita, who entered the week with five wins and 58 strikeouts.

He also attributes much of the program's success to the community feeder system with Latrobe Little League and West Point — as well as his two assistant coaches, former players Jordan Zeunges (Derry) and Alexa Bryson (Latrobe).

“The Little League programs feeding in to the varsity level here are outstanding,” he said. “It gives us a very solid foundation on a very competitive level. By the time kids get up here they are ready to play against top competition.”

The Wildcats' second-half schedule will feature plenty of top competition. Latrobe has a section rematch with Hempfield, as well as contests against perennial powers Pine-Richland, North Allegheny, Mt. Pleasant and Greensburg Central Catholic.

It's a back-loaded, grueling nonsection schedule Shaheen is hoping better prepares his team for playoff success.

“Our goal is simply to keep winning,” he said. “We have to continue to prepare and practice hard. There are no easy games (in Class AAAA). We are in one of the best, deepest conferences. But, our goal is to go deep into the playoffs and then into the states. It's going to take a lot of heart and determination.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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