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Rutherford to fill in as EF softball coach

For the past six years, Chris Estadt has taught the girls involved with the Elizabeth Forward softball team how to win, and has done a pretty good job.

Now they are going to have to see if they can find a way to do it without her at least for a year.

Estadt, the 2007 Daily News Softball Coach of the Year, has been granted a leave of absence by the school district for what athletic director Kerry Hetrick would only say was "personal reasons."

Elizabeth Forward hired middle school coach Harry Rutherford to fill in for Estadt.

One of the reasons for the leave of absence is a change in teaching assignments.

Estadt was moved from Elizabeth Forward Middle School as an English teacher to Greenock Elementary as a kindergarten teacher in the fall, thus making it difficult to make it to games on time.

"All that stuff just made it a little difficult for her," said Rutherford, who also said that Estadt recently had a death in her immediate family.

"I will be in contact with her throughout the season," Rutherford said. "This is an interim position. So I want to do what she wants to do. I have been given the free reins of what I want to do. She is coming back. I don't want to make major changes. I have been involved with her program and the way she wants it run for four years. There are not going to be any major changes."

If that's the case, Elizabeth Forward is in store for another winning season.

Under Estadt's direction, Elizabeth Forward turned from an also-ran to one of the top teams in the WPIAL on a yearly basis.

Estadt directed the Lady Warriors to a 74-41 record since taking over before the 2004 season, including 54-20 in section play.

The past four years, Elizabeth Forward won four section titles, has been to the WPIAL playoffs four times, and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals twice, including a runner-up slot in 2007 while boasting an impressive 58-22 record.

Estadt was the 2007 Daily News Softball Coach of the Year following an 18-5 campaign in which the Lady Warriors went 18-5 and advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game.

But if there is anybody who can match Estadt's credentials it would be Rutherford.

"He has been around the program for a long time and has great softball knowledge," Hetrick said.

Rutherford was the head coach for the middle school team the past four years and, before that, was the JV coach at EF for a decade.

Rutherford was one of the founders of the Renegades, an 18-under fast pitch team that plays in the summer.

"Most of the girls at the high school level played in one of the three local recreation associations and I have known the kids since they've started playing softball," Rutherford said. "I think I've seen every one of these kids come up through the program."

Rutherford will have to find a way to replace two seniors from last year's team in shortstop Brittany Bruce and pitcher/catcher Kristen Hawkins, who went on to earn a Division I scholarship to the University of Virginia.

"It will be somewhat of a challenge with losing the seniors that we did lose last year," Rutherford said. "It will be a rebuilding year for the pitching staff. We only lost two seniors. So a lot will fall on the returners to continue the program at the level of where it has been."

Even though EF did lose some top talent, Rutherford expects to win.

"We will strive to keep the program where it is at," Rutherford said. "It will be a row to hoe with a young pitching staff."

Rutherford resigned his position as middle school coach to take the varsity position. The middle school head coaching void was filled by another former Daily News Coach of the Year, former South Allegheny softball coach Heather Hibner.

In other news, former McKeesport Area and Serra Catholic assistant coach Mike Sikorski was hired to assist the Elizabeth Forward baseball team under the direction of head coach Frank Champ.

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