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West Mifflin softball hopes to avoid another late-season slide

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 1:56 a.m.

There was cause for optimism in the West Mifflin softball team early in the 2012 season.

After all, the Titans started the year with three straight wins, opened Section 3-AAA action at 2-1 and appeared ready to end a postseason drought that dates to 1998.

Then it all fell apart.

West Mifflin (8-11, 2-8) dropped eight of its next nine games and, when the dust settled, the Titans finished five games out of a postseason berth and with more questions than answers.

“We came out pretty hot out of the gate and had a little bit of a lapse in the middle of the year,” West Mifflin coach Casey Phillips said. “We had two sophomore pitchers — and this is not to put it on them — but we weren't able to get them the run support they needed and, at that point in their careers, they may not have been strikeout pitchers. We needed to generate run-support for them.”

Those two pitchers, juniors Paige Flore and Crystal Cook, are back this season and, with an extra year of development, will be a huge factor in determining the Titans' fate.

“They both saw time last year, and they're both a year wiser, and we're hoping that they're a little more battle tested than they were as sophomores,” Phillips said. “We're expecting big things out of them. They've both looked good in the offseason, they've both pitched well in our first two scrimmages and I think it's a huge advantage.”

Most teams would be happy to have one viable starter to ride into a season. Championship teams, for the most part, ride a single arm as far as it will take them.

“I think I'm going to go with the hot hand,” Phillips said. “I think it's one of those things where the situation will determine who we feel is going to get the call that day based on the strengths of the opponent and the strengths of the pitcher.”

Both hurlers will be tested by a section schedule that received an upgrade this season thanks to the WPIAL realignment. Not only will West Mifflin have to deal with Belle Vernon, Thomas Jefferson and 2012 WPIAL Class AAA finalist Elizabeth Forward, the Titans also will have to contend with Yough moving in from Section 2 and Southmoreland and its new pitcher, Class AA all-state Greensburg Central Catholic transfer Anna Marie Gatti.

West Mifflin will counter with veteran experience in four seniors — center fielder Amanda Leschak, third baseman Sydnei Zalice, second baseman Kaylynn Andress and shortstop Marla Small.

“There's no off-game. There's no pushovers or pansies in this section,” Phillips said. “You have to bring your ‘A' game all the time. … and we're hoping to turn the corner with four seniors who are four-year starters and we have a good balance.”

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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