Penn Hills softball learns from WPIAL elite
Facing the WPIAL's cream of the crop each game can be a difficult task.
The members of the Penn Hills softball team were hit with that harsh reality this season as they had to face the likes of WPIAL semifinalists Hempfield and Latrobe in the newly-formed Section 2-6A.
“I think they finally realized the level of competition when we get to play Latrobe, Hempfield and Norwin. It finally dawned on them that they need to take the next step in order to compete with it,” first-year coach Rich Burkhart said.
The Indians (6-12, 2-8) didn't seem to have an answer against Hempfield and Latrobe as they were outscored 60-3 in the four matchups.
Burkhart cited the work those types of programs put in during the offseason as what sets them apart, and he hopes the Indians take a page from their playbook.
At the beginning of the season, Burkhart thought he would be without his best player and daughter, Riplee, for the whole season. However, Riplee Burkhart, who was recovering from offseason elbow surgery, was able to play in 11 of the team's 18 games.
After Riplee, who will play shortstop at Mercyhurst North East next year, returned, her father noticed a difference in the play and confidence level of the members of the team.
“It helped immensely with her at second base. Her bat and getting on base was key for quite of few wins because when she did get on she stole a lot of bases,” Rich Burkhart said.
“Even the opposing coaches, when they realized she was on, their whole temperament changed because they knew she was going to run. It changed the confidence level in some of the girls with knowing that she was out there. They knew she was capable of getting on and helping us out.”
Riplee Burkhart led the team with a .488 batting average, while senior captain and shortstop Kiana Drahusz was named second-team all-section.
Sophomore second baseman and outfielder Caroline Webb finished with a .452 batting average and joined Drahusz as a second-team selection. Freshman third baseman Yasmine Logan hit .444 band was an honorable mention.
“She started off slow with her hitting but came around and started to hit well, which was a bonus for us. She played well. When Riplee came back, I moved Caroline from second base to the outfield, which is her natural spot,” Rich Burkhart said.
“She made some great strides from the beginning all the way to the end. She did really well. Hopefully, she comes back next year and continues on with where she's going with that.”
The Indians earned two wins over Allderdice in section play and finished on a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 win over Oakland Catholic in extra innings.
The Oakland Catholic win was flanked by a 6-0 win over Vincentian Academy and 8-5 win over Woodland Hills.
“I wish things went a little bit better and we got a couple more wins, especially in our section. I think we could have done that, but we were missing some key players at the time. Overall, I like the progress in some of the girls,” coach Burkhart said.
“Hopefully, next year they come back with a better attitude knowing now what they have to face when they go against Hempfield and Latrobe. Hopefully, we can make the playoffs next year, which I think we can if we work hard during the offseason.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.