Chartiers Valley values softball playoff experience
Only at the end did Lexi Schwartzmiller see the softball team she expected to see.
Trailing Albert Gallatin, 5-0, in the final inning of a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game, Chartiers Valley rallied for three runs and had an opportunity to at least tie the score. But the Colts ran out of steam, and their season ended with a 9-8 overall record.
Schwartzmiller, in her first season as coach of the team she played for, said she could sense in the moments leading up to the game that her players weren't themselves.
“A lot of them were so tense,” Schwartzmiller said. “They made this game to be bigger than it was. They made it seem like this game was different than any other game.
“They didn't have the same mindset that I usually see them have.”
Nonetheless, the Colts were right where Schwartzmiller wanted them to be at the end of the season.
She inherited a team that went 4-11 and missed the playoffs in 2016. After two wins to open the season, the Colts went in fits and starts before spiraling into a five-game losing streak, putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy.
But, suddenly, it seemed as though something clicked. The Colts finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, including a 13-0 win over Montour, which beat CV 13-2 in their first section meeting, and a 4-2 win over West Allegheny, also a 13-2 winner over the Colts the first time around.
“They improved greatly from the time we started in January,” Schwartzmiller said. “It's almost like a completely different team. I definitely thought the momentum we had going into playoffs was good. Everybody was hitting. There were no weak spots.”
Nerves got the better of the Colts in the playoff game, but steps were taken toward making the program a perennial playoff participant rather than just a periodic visitor. Several key players will return next season to spearhead the effort.
Leading the way will be rising senior Sami Collura, a shortstop who led the team in hitting at .508. Another soon-to-be senior, Shannon O'Connell, hit .351.
Also returning will be pitchers Teresa Mackey and Delaney Young, both of whom were sophomores this season. Mackey served as the main pitcher, but Young got her share of varsity experience, including in the playoff game when Mackey struggled and was called for six illegal pitches.
Emily O'Connor will return at second base, making the Colts' defense strong up the middle. Riley Duda is expected to anchor an outfield hit hard by graduation, and rising sophomore Amanda DiDomenico is the likely third baseman for 2018.
Schwartzmiller said she is pleased with the team's overall body of work. They became closer off the field and jelled on it. Now that her players have a full season under her leadership and an entire offseason to work with her, Schwartzmiller is excited to see what the future brings.
“I think they do know the expectation level from this year and what they need to do to play next year and be ready to next year,” she said. “It's crazy, looking back, to see where they are now. We did accomplish a lot of things and some things more than I thought we would.”