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High hopes push Kittanning softball team

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Bill Shirley | For The Leader Times
Kittanning junior Tarra Schall takes her turn in the batting cage during an indoor practice Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at Kittanning High School.
Top high school sports
Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:26 a.m.

Led by a Hall of Fame coach and a roster of experienced players, the Kittanning softball team has every reason to think big.

“We have high expectations, and making the playoffs, that's the top one,” junior shortstop Tarra Schall said. “We definitely have a lot more goals for this season.”

And why not? The Wildcats subtracted just one graduated senior off a team that had a winning record and qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season.

Whereas last year, Kittanning was young and relatively inexperienced, this season it boasts seven seniors and eight returning starters.

“The girls are real excited,” Wildcats coach Tom Emminger said. “They don't have to learn new positions or worry about a jump up to the varsity level. They'll just continue what we've been doing the last couple years.”

The Wildcats have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs four of the past five seasons and six times under Emminger since 2000. Emminger is in his 46th season of coaching high school and youth sports in the area, a record that earned him induction into the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame.

“Coach Emminger, he's so dedicated,” Schall said. “We see him at school, he'll be there all day, just during the day he'll be there working on the field. He just loves the everything about being part of a team, and I think we love him for it, too.”

Emminger calls these Wildcats “a very tight group” that spends plenty of time together on and off the field.

This cold and wet March, it's been more of the latter, as Kittanning had been able to practice outside just once before a scheduled scrimmage Wednesday.

“We've all been playing softball together for I don't even know how long — little league?” Schall said. “It's the same group that's been together for a while, and we have good chemistry.”

In the coming weeks, that common interest will be in leading Kittanning to victories.

Emminger calls Schall “one of the best shortstops I've seen at Kittanning” and said she has the ability both with her bat and glove to be a college player. Schall's batting average was better than .400 last season, and she was named all-section.

The Wildcats' other top returnees include catcher/third baseman Nicole Johnson and outfielder Cassie Merryman.

Pitcher Courtney Edwards is back as a senior, with senior Nellie Toy and junior Emily Kutch other arms capable of pitching.

Sophomores pitcher/shortstop Emily Fries and third baseman/outfielder Maggie McCanna and freshmen second baseman Alexis Adams and catcher/infielder Breanna McGaughey also figure to be contributors.

“They just have to concentrate on what we're doing. ... play the way they should and just keep their heads in the game,” Emminger said. “And if that happens, I think we'll be OK.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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