Latrobe softball team getting used to new coach

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

First-year Latrobe softball coach Richard Shaheen knows the challenges that come with leading a new team.

Whether it be implementing a new system or just getting to know the players, there is usually an adjustment phase that has to be made.

“The thing that we're looking at first of all is coming together with a new coach, a new team and everybody learning each other in a new system,” the former Mt. Pleasant head coach said. “The first year is always tough because of the learning curve but we're hoping we can compete for a playoff spot and hopefully go deep into the playoffs.”

Luckily for Shaheen, he will have the luxury of a solid group of seniors as well as a valuable corps of assistant coaches as he tries to lead a young Latrobe team back to the WPIAL playoffs after finishing 14-8 and 9-3 in section 1-AAAA last season.

“I always rely on seniors and senior leadership,” Shaheen said. “The four seniors we have are outstanding seniors in their own right which is making my job as a head coach much easier, because when I give the team a task to do, the seniors make sure that everybody follows through.”

This year's senior class consists of pitcher Olivia Gumbita, first baseman Leah Poponick, outfielder Sierra Stinson and two-time all section shortstop Kaity Finley.

Last season Finley hit .493 with 11 RBI along with a team-leading 36 hits and 27 runs scored.

But maybe the most valuable aspect she brings to the Wildcats is her positive demeanor.

“Kaity brings a great spirit,” Shaheen said. “She has a lot of enthusiasm and kids feed off of her. She's always so positive, it makes everyone else want to be part of how she is. She knows her job, plays the position very well and it's just a pleasure to coach a kid like that.”

Her leadership role also is an asset.

“For the younger girls, I always tell them ‘don't worry about it, you make a mistake, just keep going your hardest,' and I just bring them up whenever they're down,” Finley said.

Some of those younger players that will be counted on this season include sophomore center fielder Alexus Fearer, sophomore catcher Jenna Adams and freshman catcher Jessica Tatone. All three will start for the first time after playing sparingly, if at all, in the past.

“Having young players come into key positions like center field and catcher, they bring a lot to the table but then again we have to keep an eye on them because of the experience level,” Shaheen said.

The Wildcats will also rely on the bat of junior third baseman/outfielder Ashley Perillo, who hit .429 last season with three home runs and 18 RBI.

On the mound, Latrobe will be led by its strong one-two punch of Gumbita and junior Shelby Noel.

“I trust both of those pitchers wholeheartedly,” Shaheen said.

Added Finley: “They both are returning so they know exactly what to expect. I think they're both going to do great.”

Another aid to Shaheen this year will be pitching coach and former Latrobe standout Alexa Bryson.

The Wildcats all-time leading pitcher and former Robert Morris University hurler (2009-12), Bryson brings instant credibility to the pitching staff and will act as another big help to Shaheen.

“Just having her, she's one of those kids that's been there, done it,” Shaheen said. “Not only does she talk the talk but she's walked the walk. …It really does alleviate a lot of the pressure on me because instead of me spreading myself so thin on pitching, I can rely 100 percent on Alexa to take that department over.”

If everything comes together in 2013, the Wildcats hope to be able to advance past their WPIAL quarterfinal loss from last season and continue to improve.

“I think we need to limit the small mistakes that every team makes, and we need to keep our heads in the game and never give up,” Finley said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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