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| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
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Jeannette grad Kirstie Cortazzo wrapped up her junior season as a Gannon University softball player.

Softball has always been a major part of Kirstie Cortazzo's life. Just how big a role the sport plays in her life was never more evident than during this season.

Cortazzo, a Jeannette High School graduate, just completed her junior season on the Gannon University softball team and, for the third straight season, she was among the team's very best players.

However, this season was anything but easy. Chris Cortazzo — Kirstie's father and a longtime local softball coach — passed away suddenly on Feb. 11.

“If I didn't have my softball family here at Gannon, I don't know if I would have been able to get through what I went through. I owe them so much. If I didn't have softball …,” she said, her voice drifting off. “My family is a very big softball family. That's where my dad would want me to be, on that field.”

Cortazzo put together a season that surely made her dad proud.

The second baseman was fourth on the team with a .342 batting average, a .509 slugging percentage and .400 on-base percentage. She was among the team leaders in hits (39), home runs (four) and RBIs (29). She was also spectacular in the field. She had a .955 fielding percentage and helped to turn five double plays.

“Kirstie is a real intense player. She plays the game the way it's supposed to be played . . . She's a chip off the old block, like her dad and like her mom (Jeannette softball coach Dee Cortazzo),” said Gannon head coach Tom Jakubowski. “Whatever she's into, she does it full-time, and she cares about people. She loves her teammates and they love her. She's the kind of player whose teammates look up to her.”

Jakubowski explained that, when recruiting athletes, he looks for those who are not only good players but also those who display true leadership qualities.

“We watched her play extensively (in high school), and she had those added leadership abilities,” he said. “We believe everybody should be a leader, and Kirstie is one of those young women who does a great job on the field and in the classroom. She's a leader.”

Team-wise, Gannon finished the season 24-13 overall and 7-9 in conference play. The Lady Knights went 2-2 in the NCAA Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), ending the season with a 4-1 loss to California (Pa.) on May 2. Cortazzo and Jakubowski were disappointed with the way the season wrapped up, especially with the way the team played early.

Gannon started the season 19-2 and was nationally ranked for much of March. However, the lingering winter weather led to the cancellation or postponement of numerous games, at one point leaving Gannon without a game for two consecutive weeks.

That threw the team off its rhythm, and the Knights never quite regained their form, going 5-11 the rest of the way.

Despite the way the team finished the year, Cortazzo is more than excited for next year. The criminal justice major plans on spending most of the summer in Erie, working out with the team and working an internship with the Pennsylvania State Police. She wants to make sure her final collegiate season is her best.

“Our entire batting lineup except for (one player) is coming back,” she said. “I'm excited for next year.”

Weightman gets hit

Starting in right field, Jeannette graduate Brian Weight had a single and a run scored as his St. Bonaventure baseball team fell to LaSalle 6-4 last Friday. Weightman, a junior, now has five hits in 29 at-bats this season.

St. Bonaventure is 18-25 overall and 8-13 in the Division I Atlantic 10 Conference. The team wraps up the regular season with three games against Fordham Thursday and Friday.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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