South Allegheny softball team rebuilding
Losing only three seniors to graduation, South Allegheny softball coach Hal Minford should be thrilled.
Well, he isn't, and few can blame him.
Who would be thrilled losing Taylor Geary, Marissa D'Angelo and Sarah Jacobs — arguably the best hitter in South Allegheny history, a three-year starting catcher and a three-year starting pitcher, respectively?
“The number is only three, but the impact those three had is immeasurable,” Minford said. “We are talking about players, leaders and everything South Allegheny softball is about.”
It was those three who helped South Allegheny to new heights two years ago when the Gladiators advanced to the Class AA semifinals and their first state playoff appearance despite being a No. 13 seed.
It didn't go as well last year.
After a 0-3 start, South Allegheny lost four of its last six games to finish 7-8 and miss the playoffs for the second time in three years after playing in the postseason every year from 2005-09.
Even though South Allegheny had a built-in excuse with Jacobs hurting her arm late in the year, Minford offers none.
“It was very disappointing because we had our pitcher, our catcher and our best hitter back,” Minford said. “We didn't hit, we didn't pitch and we didn't make the plays to make it happen.”
Even though the core group of girls is gone and Minford has a 25-man roster loaded with freshmen and sophomores, the expectations remain the same.
“I am expecting to win; I am expecting to compete for the section championship,” Minford said. “The standard is the standard, and we want to win the section and get into the playoffs every year.”
To do that this year, Minford needs his inexperienced pitching staff of sophomore Spencer Lawson, freshman left-hander Brenna Pribanic and freshman Tiffany Naccarato not to play their age.
“I have been very pleased with all three of them,” Minford said. “We can be OK. What we have been working on is making sure they are OK and confident about throwing pitches in tough counts. They have to understand that we aren't going to throw a 3-2 fastball. We are going to make people hit our pitches.”
Minford plans to use all three of his pitchers.
“They all bring something different to the game,” Minford said. “Spencer is throwing four or five pitches now. Brenna throws four solid pitches as a freshman. And Tiffany is throwing four pitches as a freshman.”
The offense also will be a work in progress.
Gone are the long balls associated with Geary and D'Angelo and are replaced with Minford's unconventional playing style.
“We have been working on being a little more aggressive on the basepaths,” Minford said. “We have to focus a little more on defense and small ball.”
Minford has experience returning in seniors Jessica Hadam, Ashley Spell and Nicole Mihalic, but he also has a roster full of sophomores who he need to contribute.
“I have a core of sophomores who are pretty solid that I have been pleasantly surprised with at the beginning of the season,” Minford said.
Shannon Connors, Stacia Petrillo, Julia Giannandrea and Emily Burkholder are expected to contribute significantly.
“We have numbers,” Minford said. “It is just a matter of seeing where they all fit.”
A restructured Section 4-AA should help South Allegheny with its growing pains as Mt. Pleasant and Southmoreland moved up to Class AAA while Jeannette went down to Class A.
Add in that Greensburg Central Catholic pitcher Anna Marie Gatti transferred to Southmoreland and newcomers Charleroi and Brentwood with holdovers Steel Valley and East Allegheny, and Minford is optimistic.
“We feel that we have as good as chance as any of the other teams to win the section,” Minford said.