PAC all-star softball team gets crack at Team USA

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:55 p.m.

Kelsey Cunningham graduated as Washington & Jefferson's all-time leading hitter, but the Peters Township product has low expectations for her next softball game.

“I would be happy if I just made contact a couple times,” she said with a laugh.

Cunningham has a good reason: Her next opponent is the U.S. national team.

She is part of an all-star squad of former Presidents' Athletic Conference players who will face Team USA in an exhibition doubleheader at 6 p.m. Thursday at West Virginia's Hawley Field in Morgantown.

Geneva's Van Zanic will coach the PAC team.

“We hope to be competitive, but we know what we're facing,” Zanic said. “We're not looking to shock anyone. We just want them to have a good time and enjoy the experience.”

Team USA will use the games as a tuneup for the World Cup of Softball, which starts Monday in Irvine, Calif., as well as next month's world championships. The matchup came about when the West Virginia Amateur Softball Association of America needed an opponent for the U.S. and approached Zanic. After Zanic consulted with the PAC commissioner, it was decided the team would comprise recent graduates as a way of rewarding them.

The Division III season ended in early May, and most of the players have been working full time since graduation, which has made preparation challenging.

Cunningham said she has been cranking up the speed on a pitching machine in her parents' basement in hopes of staying sharp.

Pitcher Carrie Maier, a Waynesburg and Greensburg Salem graduate, said she has spent countless hours on YouTube trying to learn from elite-level players.

“In college and in high school, I could get away with high heat,” she said. “I feel like, against a team of this caliber, high heat is what they look for. High heat is what goes over the fence. It's definitely going to change my whole game.”

Maier is one of three pitchers on the team. The rest of the 16-player roster features a glut of middle infielders and a shortage of outfielders, meaning Zanic must be creative with his lineup. Cunningham, a natural shortstop, is expected to start in center field. She and her teammates had a chance to work at their new positions during practice Wednesday and will again Thursday afternoon.

The team's goal is to be a tougher opponent than Team USA expects, Maier said.

“I don't want to be batting practice,” she said. “I hope that all of us aren't going to get stuck in quicksand and be able to take it in and roll with it.”

The final score, though, figures to be an afterthought.

“Even if we get killed out there, it's probably going to be one of the best times of my life,” Maier said. “It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, especially for the D-III-caliber player. And they're giving us jerseys, so that's definitely going into a frame. I believe our last names are on the back. I've never had that before.”

Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jvella@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.

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