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Jeannette softball honors memory of teammate Stein in preparing for season

| Sunday, March 19, 2017, 6:15 p.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
The Jeannette softball team practices their stances and swings at batting nets during practice on Thursday at Jeannette High School.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeannette softball players work their way through a series of hand and eye coordination drills during practice on Thursday at Jeannette High School.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Jeannette softball players Chloe Stein (left) and Dymond Crawford practice a quick-catch reaction time drill during practice Thursday, March 16, 2017, at Jeannette High School.

No matter what kind of challenges the Jeannette softball team faces on the diamond this year, there is nothing that can compare to the heartache coach Zac Karas and his girls had to experience off the field this year.

In December, Jeannette suffered the loss of teammate and friend Scarlett Stein. The senior and three-year starter for the Jayhawks passed away suddenly due to a heart attack.

“She was a huge part of our team. She was a senior, she would've been a captain and she was in line to be valedictorian of her class,” Karas said. “It was a complete shock, and it is still surreal for us.”

Just a few weeks after the passing of their beloved classmate, offseason workouts began. That's when Karas said he found out the true character of the girls on his roster.

“For the girls, I feel like it could've gone a couple of different ways. They could've had a rough time and just couldn't do it this season. Or they could play the season in her memory, and that's what I've seen so far,” the fourth-year coach said.

“Every single practice, it's always someone is thinking of a memory or something that Scarlett did one way in workouts. They keep her memory alive, together, all the time.”

The team will have Stein's number 11 stitched into their headbands for this season. And with the beginning of the season rapidly approaching, the Jayhawks believe they have the strength and talent to make their teammate proud.

The senior co-captains for Jeannette, catcher Kara Johnston, first baseman Hannah Poth and second baseman Jada Morgan, have assumed prominent leadership roles on the team, helping groom seven freshmen on this year's roster.

“Kara and Jada, it's their fourth year with us, and Hannah, it's her third. They're all co-captains, and I don't know if I've had a group of seniors with this level of talent and leadership. They are just all ideal people for leading our team,” Karas said.

Johnston will play an even more instrumental role as she will be catching for her younger sister, freshman Faith Johnston, the team's starting pitcher. Faith's twin sister, Grace, is expected to crack the starting lineup in her first varsity season.

Another reason the team hopes to improve on its 7-8 record and first-round exit in the WPIAL Class A playoffs last season is the added contributions it expects from juniors Savannah Berry and Chloe Stein, who missed last season with a torn ACL.

“Both of these two juniors, I think they'll have a pretty big impact for us. One of them will definitely be our shortstop, but we're still seeing how everybody fits together best in the field,” Karas said. “They've both played big roles on the team since their freshmen year.”

The Jayhawks coach said this year's motto has been “Get better at something every single day,” and as the girls balance overcoming hardship and preparing for the sport they love, it's a motto that couldn't be more apt.

“One of our players, as part of her goals that we had the girls write down, she said she wants to play the whole season like Scarlett played. She listed five or six things that Scarlett would do, or how she'd carry herself during game. They're always thinking about her,” Karas said.

“It's really tough for them, but they are very resilient and I'm very proud of them so far.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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