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Seniors lead the way for West Allegheny softball

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - West Allegheny's Ashley Gerhart (foreground) celebrates with teammates after a home run against New Castle.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review</em></div>West Allegheny's Ashley Gerhart (foreground) celebrates with teammates after a home run against New Castle.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - West Allegheny shortstop Ashley Gerhart makes a diving play against New Castle last week.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review</em></div>West Allegheny shortstop  Ashley Gerhart makes a diving play against New Castle last week.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

Nobody has ever questioned Ashley Gerhart's ability to hit.

Whether the West Allegheny softball team's slugging shortstop could talk — and lead — now that was a different story.

Quiet and introverted the past three years, Gerhart has busted out of her shell this spring with the same sort of authority that she would turn on an inside fastball. That vocal approach — encouraging teammates, shouting out defenses and what-would-happen-if scenarios — has been one of the primary reasons the Indians are 8-1 overall and 4-1 in Section 2-AAA heading into tonight's game at second-place Montour.

“When you're younger, you're scared to step up, so I was always a little bit quiet,” Gerhart said. “But now that I'm a senior, I feel like people will actually listen to me.”

Since hitting .469 to lead the Indians to their first PIAA Class AAA state tournament appearance as a freshman, Gerhart has been consistently spectacular for West Allegheny, earning all-section honors each of the past three seasons. The Robert Morris recruit is hitting .588 this spring, with three home runs, seven doubles, 14 RBI and 17 runs — all marks that lead the team.

“She's an easy kid to like,” coach Mindi McFate said. “She's the most talented player I've ever coached, and she has zero ego. If I wanted her to bunt every time, she would. If I wanted her to bat ninth, she would. I think the kids recognize her unselfishness and recognize that she wants to do whatever it takes for the team to win.”

One of six seniors in the lineup, Gerhart anchors an infield that includes first baseman Amanda Murray, second baseman Amanda Hurey and third baseman Christina Alati. Center fielder Marissa Dytka and right fielder Tiffany Atkins provide experience in the outfield.

“Having a lot of seniors in the lineup helps because we know it's our last year playing together, and for some of us it's our last of softball,” Gerhart said. “We want to make it the best year possible.”

Perhaps Gerhart and Co. want to make it as interesting as possible, too. West Allegheny has had to come from behind in four of its nine games, winning three. In the one the Indians didn't win, they trailed Montour, 4-0, scored five runs, then surrendered five unanswered for a 9-5 loss. Games against New Castle, Trinity and McGuffey featured dramatic comebacks.

“We never give up,” Dytka said. “As long as it's not over, there's still one more inning, right?”

The experience on this year's team has not only provided a steadying hand, but the Indians also are raking: Five players have home runs — the team has 10 — and West Allegheny is hitting .385.

Combine that with pitcher Brianna Lach, who's not only hitting .500 but has a 2.22 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 63 innings, and you can't blame Gerhart for having so much to say.

“Ashley has always been a physical leader, but in terms of being vocal, she would take a back seat to whoever the captains or the seniors were that year,” McFate said. “She was never one to step up and say anything, where this year, she's more vocal, which I think has made a big difference for everyone.”

Jason Mackey is a freelance writer.

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