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Bounty of ace players spotlights RMU's renewed recruiting efforts

| Thursday, March 8, 2012

Even before Nicole Sleith met the Robert Morris softball team, former Mt. Lebanon pitcher Geena Badolato had heard all about the former Yough fireballer.

Badolato's high school catcher, Jen Bahm, was Sleith's battery mate with the Pittsburgh Power, a travel team, and gushed about Sleith's velocity and pinpoint control. But Badolato still wanted to see for herself whether the hype was warranted.

Consider Badolato impressed. Sleith has carried the Colonials through their first 12 games this spring, posting a 4-3 record with a 1.65 ERA in 421/3 innings and earning Northeast Conference Rookie of the Week honors Feb. 27.

"You've heard so much about the person, and I think to have that person live up to everything you've seen in the paper and her having all the strikeouts and all that, it's awesome," Badolato said. "Especially now that she's on my team."

Sleith's arrival at RMU gives the Colonials (6-6) three of the most talented pitchers to come out of the WPIAL over the past five years.

Besides Badolato, who led Mt. Lebanon to WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA titles as a senior in 2010 — throwing a perfect game in the state championship game — the Colonials recently welcomed back ace Alexa Bryson (Latrobe), who returned from a sprained ankle during a 2-1 win over Siena last Friday.

Overall, two-thirds of the Colonials' 18-member roster played at WPIAL schools, a bounty of local talent that underscores how Head Coach Craig Coleman and his staff have shifted the focus of their recruiting efforts.

"In the past five or six years, we have brought in more WPIAL kids than we have in the past, and that's primarily because of the evolution of summer travel fast-pitch (softball) in Western Pennsylvania," said Coleman, a 22-year veteran who won his 500th game last spring. "Better players are coming out of this area, and we're taking advantage of that by focusing more on our recruiting efforts here."

Bryson is a two-time All-Northeast Conference selection with 53 wins and 603 strikeouts during her career, but the senior right-hander twisted her ankle following an indoor fielding drill the day before the team left for a season-opening tournament in North Carolina.

With Bryson in a walking boot, the workload went to Badolato and Sleith, two lefties with drastically different styles: Badolato the craftsman with a devastating changeup, Sleith a power pitcher capable of lighting up radar guns.

Sleith came on in relief after Badolato gave up two runs in the season-opener, tossing three scoreless innings as the Colonials scored three runs in the final two innings to top Towson, 5-1. Seven innings of one-run ball delivered win No. 2 in the nightcap, a 5-1 victory over Campbell. She's picked up saves in two of her past four appearances.

"I just tried to come in and help my team," said Sleith, who actually shared with Bryson a private pitching coach in Jana Hudson, who Sleith started seeing when she was 8. "That's all you can do."

Robert Morris captured its fifth regular-season NEC title last spring, but the Colonials fell shy of their seventh postseason tournament title under Coleman, giving up a total of 11 runs in losses to Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac.

But with 95 percent of their pitching back, and the addition of Sleith — who recorded 989 career strikeouts, was named the Tribune-Review's Player of the Year and led Yough to a WPIAL Class AAA title — there's plenty of optimism this year.

"Between us three pitchers, I think we're pretty strong," Sleith said, referring to a group that has four WPIAL titles, one state championship and three state final appearances. "Plus, we all have a different style of pitching and different techniques. I think we all complement each other very well."

Additional Information:

Play ball ... close to home

Twelve of the 18 members of the Robert Morris softball team played in the WPIAL. Here's a list, along with games played and games started this season through Sunday.

LF Tess Apke (Mt. Lebanon): 9 games played-8 games started

P Geena Badolato (Mt. Lebanon): 7-6

P Alexa Bryson (Latrobe): 1-1

1B Sarah Capp (Montour): 12-12

C Chelsea Evans (Riverside): 5-5

DP Katrina Gallagher (Canon-McMillan): 11-7

C Samantha Santillo (Ellwood City): 8-7

2B Alexis Schwartzmiller (Chartiers Valley): 5-2

SS Cassie Show (Connellsville): 12-11

3B Chelsea Siar (Shaler): 12-12

P Nicole Sleith (Yough): 10-5

CF Jaci Timko (Chartiers-Houston): 12-11

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