EF softball team labeled as squad to reckon with

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward made a surprising run in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season when, as the ninth seed in the tournament, posted three upset victories and advanced to the championship game.

Though making it to California (Pa.) for the finals was impressive, the Warriors' season ended abruptly with a 7-0 loss to Montour and a 3-2 defeat to District 10 champion Ford LeBoeuf in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament.

Having the season end the way it did after such a winning streak left the team eager for the start of the 2013 campaign.

“It's been interesting,” Elizabeth Forward coach Harry Rutherford said. “I think with the way it ended last year, it left them a little sour with our performance. But it was a young squad, and they really want to improve on that performance, so they've really been working hard over the winter.”

Not only have the players been working on the fundamentals, they've spent quite a bit of time in the weight room in an effort to get stronger for what could be a long grind if the team plays again into June. Considering the path the Warriors must take this season, they'll need all the strength — physical and mental — they can muster.

Elizabeth Forward (17-8 in 2012) will play in a revamped Section 3 this season that, thanks to WPIAL biennial realignment, might be the toughest in the classification. The Warriors have to deal with traditional rival and title contender Belle Vernon, 2012 playoff team Yough moves in from Section 2, and Southmoreland has moved up from Class AA. The Scotties boast Class AA all-state pitcher Anna Marie Gatti, who transferred after two years at Greensburg Central Catholic.

“With the section being what it is, it's not going to be an easy run,” Rutherford said. “We lose one team (Ringgold) and get two playoff teams … so what that means is that there's going to be a good team in Section 3 that doesn't make the playoffs.”

Not only is the section more difficult, but teams will be gunning for Elizabeth Forward to make sure a run like last season's doesn't happen again.

“We kind of snuck up on people, but we didn't expect that,” Rutherford said. “We're not sneaking up on anybody this year, and we've really been pushing that through the kids' heads that they're really going to be prepared for us — and they know it.”

One thing about Elizabeth Forward last season: it was a young team that was just cutting its teeth in the postseason. This will be a veteran team led by junior pitcher Portia McBride, who won't be thrown into the fray only after the initial starter was injured, like she was a year ago.

“We're trying to get her to hit her locations better than she did last year, because some of the mistakes she made were not throwing her pitches in the locations that we called,” Rutherford said. “That's been a point of emphasis since we got back together, so she could hit the outside corner when we need to and throw the ball off the plate. She made too many mistakes getting the ball in too far on (certain) counts.”

Despite learning on the fly, she still finished 17-8 and was an honorable mention all-state selection. And the Warriors need her to be better in 2013.

“She's more mature, and her knowledge of how to pitch the game has gotten better because I think last year she thought that she could just throw the ball by hitters,” Rutherford said. “We're trying to get her to be a little more of a finesse pitcher this year.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kbarnes@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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