Previewing the WPIAL softball season
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Preseason top five
Team 2012 record
1. Canon-McMillan 18-6
2. Hempfield 18-6
3. North Allegheny 14-7
4. Latrobe 14-8
5. Plum 13-6
1. Hempfield: Seven starters and 12 letter winners are back, including senior Justyne Falbo, who hit .356 and was an all-section shortstop. Senior pitcher Hope Pehrson was 7-2 with a 1.24 ERA. The Spartans also return Kasey Kolick, who hit .560 in 2011 but was hurt last season. Perennial contender Latrobe has a new coach (Richard Shaheen) but returns a solid senior class, including pitcher Olivia Gumbita and shortstop Kaitlynn Finley, a California (Pa.) recruit. Franklin Regional moves into the section after winning Section 2 last year with an 11-1 record but has to replace pitcher Sam Johnson. Norwin shared the section title last year and again could challenge.
2. Plum: Twelve letter winners return from last season's team that went 13-6 overall and 9-3 in section play. Junior shortstop Jordan Seneca hit .547 last season, and junior catcher Melissa LeClair also will lead the way. McKeesport should challenge with six returning starters, including leading hitter/pitcher Jess Beitler, who hit .459 with 18 RBI last year and had a 2.27 ERA.
3. North Allegheny: The Tigers went 10-2 in section play last year and return five starters, led by all-section shortstop Christine Scherer and all-section third baseman Mary Funderlich. Shaler returns just four starters from a 19-3 team, but they include all-section shortstop Maddi Mulig. Replacing pitcher Sydney Smyers and catcher Lauren Hackett won't be easy. Seneca Valley went 14-5 in 2012 and returns five starters, including junior shortstop Alexa Sisko, who hit .404 with 14 RBI.
4. Canon-McMillan: The defending WPIAL champion and PIAA quarterfinalist returns a skilled battery of senior pitcher Alayna Astuto and junior catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko. Baldwin returns just three starters from a 13-7 team and graduated seven seniors, including pitcher Anna Lauterbach, but could contend. Peters Township was 15-5 last year but graduated star pitcher Tara Konopka, who went to Drexel. The Indians did win the Gordonsville tournament in Florida over the weekend, and sophomore pitchers Kellyn Perich and Carley Knopka combined to go 6-0 on the mound with just one run allowed.
Players to watch
Sr., SS, Kiski Area
The three-sport standout hit .517 with seven home runs for the Cavaliers.
Sr., C, Franklin Regional
University of Maryland, Baltimore County recruit who played shortstop as a sophomore hit .460 and was an all-section pick last year.
Sr. SS, Baldwin
Seton Hill recruit hit .429 last year with five home runs and 21 RBI in an all-section campaign.
So., C, Norwin
Hit .538 last year as a freshman and was a solid backstop for pitcher Jamie Robinson (14-3).
Jr., C, Canon-McMillan
As a sophomore, she hit seven home runs and had 31 RBI while providing a steady defensive presence behind the plate.
Canon-McMillan defeated Hempfield, 4-1, in the WPIAL title game but fell in the PIAA quarterfinals to Bishop Shannon.
Preseason top five
Team 2012 record
1. Greensburg Salem 17-4
2. Elizabeth Forward 17-8
3. Montour 19-6
4. Ambridge 17-3
5. Belle Vernon 17-7
1. Ambridge: The Bridgers rolled to a 9-1 record last year in section play and return all-section sophomores Kelly Haslett and Heather Mueller, as well as pitcher Hannah Smith. Central Valley returns seven starters from an 8-11 team, including junior pitcher Jessica Koshinski and senior first baseman Mollie Matteo, who hit six home runs last year. Hopewell has 11 letter winners back, including junior Jamie Moore, who hit .463.
2. Montour: The Spartans have five returning starters, including all-section performers Mallory Gerst, Stacey Capp and Alyssa McMurtrie, but have to replace standout pitcher Kaitlyn Kutchman, who started every game the past three seasons and set school records for wins, strikeouts and ERA. West Allegheny has four returning starters, including all-section catcher Brittany Zeigler. South Fayette moves up from Class AA after going 11-9 last year, and Carrick joins the WPIAL this season.
3. Elizabeth Forward: Seven starters return for the WPIAL runner-up Warriors, including junior pitcher Portia McBride, who was 17-8 last year and was honorable mention all-state. Southmoreland moves up from Class AA and will feature Greensburg Central Catholic transfer Anna Marie Gatti, who had seven wins and 109 strikeouts last season. Belle Vernon returns all-state first baseman Deanna Hileman (.420). South Park returns starting pitcher Dana Achille and leading hitter Meghan Pavlick.
4. Greensburg Salem: College prospects dot the roster for the Lions, including senior pitcher Jayne Oberdorf and senior catcher Taylor Mehan, who were all-state last year. Sophomore shortstop Claire Oberdorf also was all-section and junior outfielder Karly Mellinger transferred from GCC after hitting .493. Mt. Pleasant returns junior infielder Paige Hertzog, who batted .513 last year.
5. Mars: The Planets won the section title last year with an 8-2 record and could repeat. They are led by RMU recruit Erin Hershman, a junior infielder, and senior pitcher Taylor Rotz (Nova Southeastern University). Knoch has seven starters back, including all-section performers Bethany Hay and Abbi Smithmyer. Eight starters are back for newcomer Indiana, which went 7-3 in Section 4 last year. Kittanning junior shortstop Terra Schall was all-section last year after hitting .532. Senior outfielder Paige Paskorz hit .400 for Hampton last year.
Players to watch
Sr., SS, Montour
She was second-team all-state last year after hitting .516 with 33 RBI and 10 doubles.
Anna Marie Gatti
Jr., P, Southmoreland
She committed to Syracuse as a freshman, and had seven wins and 109 strikeouts for Greensburg Central Catholic last year before transferring.
Sr., C, Greensburg Salem
The reliable backstop hit .596, with seven home runs, six triples and nine doubles, as well as 30 RBI.
Sr., P, Greensburg Salem
Talented pitcher went 15-4 with 195 strikeouts in leading the Lions to the PIAA playoffs. The Marist recruit also hit .480.
Sr., P, Ambridge
She had 15 wins and 89 strikeouts for the Bridgers last season and was named all-section.
Montour beat Elizabeth Forward, 7-0, in the WPIAL title game, and Greensburg Salem also advanced to the PIAA tournament. Montour beat Greensburg Salem in the PIAA second round but fell in the quarterfinals to PIAA champ Big Springs.
Preseason top five
Team 2012 record
1. Deer Lakes 20-2
2. Chartiers-Houston 25-2
3. Riverside 16-4
4. Seton-La Salle 15-2
5. Greensburg C.C. 14-8
1. Seton-La Salle: Led by sophomore pitcher Lauren Zola, who had 16 wins and 159 strikeouts last season and hit .459, the Rebels, who went 14-0 last year in Section 1, are a favorite to defend their section title. Also back are senior all-section catcher Jess Weiss, who hit .588 with 41 RBI, and junior all-section infielder Taylor Mercurio, who batted .527. Keystone Oaks has nine returning letter winners, including seniors Kiersten Badzgon and Bre Coyle. OLSH went 15-6 last year and returns pitcher Emily Duerr, who hit .441, and sophomore all-section third baseman Emily Quinn.
2. Chartiers-Houston: The Bucs return six starters and 14 letter winners from a team that won the WPIAL Class A title last year and went 25-2. Senior pitcher Kayla Briggs, who had 215 strikeouts last year, is one of the best in the entire WPIAL. McGuffey dropped down from Class AAA after going 14-6 last year and returns junior pitcher Cassie Weiss, who had 14 wins and 177 strikeouts. Waynesburg was a playoff team a year ago and brings back sophomore infielder Hannah Gibbons (.456), junior outfielder Jenna Henry and junior pitcher Jordan Moore, who all were all-section players.
3. Deer Lakes: After winning the WPIAL title last season, the Lancers return much of their lineup, including catcher Hanna Blinn, who hit .534 with 15 RBI last season, and senior shortstop Becca Babincak, who hit .350. They will be working in a new No. 1 pitcher — sophomore Tiffany Edwards. Freeport returns eight starters, including senior pitcher Alyssa Meta, who hit .578 with two home runs last year and is 16-6 with a 1.24 ERA for her career. Burrell returns senior pitcher Claire Fisher, who hit .397 and posted 60 strikeouts.
4. Greensburg Central Catholic: This section will have a different look this season after top finishers Mt. Pleasant and Southmoreland moved elsewhere and Jeannette dropped to Class A. GCC also will look different after its top hitter (Karly Mellinger) and pitcher (Anna Marie Gatti) transferred. The Centurions do return sophomore shortstop/pitcher Nikki Adisey (.338) and sophomore catcher Carolyn Appleby (.438), who both were all-section last year. Steel Valley returns six starters, including senior shortstop Skyler Vinay, who hit .381 with three home runs.
5. Riverside: Power pitcher Kirsten Wilson gives Riverside a chance to win each time she takes the mound. The WPIAL's leader in strikeouts last season with 254, the Bloomfield College, N.J. recruit also hit .579. Three of the team's other eight returning starters also hit above .300, including all-section junior Brooke Barker.
Players to watch
Sr., C, Deer Lakes
A playoff standout a year ago, she batted .534 with nine doubles and 15 RBI for the Lancers.
Sr., P, Chartiers-Houston
A two-time first-team all-state player, Briggs went 25-2 with 215 strikeouts and a 0.97 ERA last season. She also hit .516 with 30 RBI.
Jr., P, McGuffey
This power pitcher had 177 strikeouts and 14 wins last season.
Sr., P, Riverside
She posted 16 wins, struck out 254 batters and had a 0.64 ERA last season, while also starring at the plate with a .579 average and seven home runs.
So., P, Seton-La Salle
As a freshman, Zola had 16 wins and struck out 159 batters. She also hit .549 with 29 RBI for the Rebels.
Deer Lakes topped Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL finals, 3-2, in eight innings. Neshannock qualified as the WPIAL's third-place team and went on to win the PIAA title. Deer Lakes lost in the quarterfinals, and GCC fell in the first round.
Preseason top five
Team 2012 record
1. Neshannock 24-1
2. Carmichaels 22-3
3. Sto-Rox 20-2
4. Burgettstown 16-3
5. Vincentian 13-10
1. Sto-Rox: PIAA qualifiers last year, Sto-Rox relied heavily on graduated pitcher Natalie Smara. But, the Vikings do return senior Hayley Weisser (.571) and junior Mary Cersosimo (.525). Burgettstown dropped down from Class AA and returns pitcher Bre Lonick, who had 14 wins, and Lizzie Strain, an all-section shortstop who hit .382. Five starters return for Bishop Canevin, including senior outfielder Kala Cinker, an all-section player a year ago.
2. Carmichaels: The Mikes rolled to a 10-0 section mark in 2012, captured a sixth straight section title and were WPIAL runners-up. Morgan Berardi (.400) and Lindsey Osborne (.442) are two of Class A's top players. Sophomore pitcher Erica Burns was 6-0 with a 0.88 ERA last year and also hit .438. Frazier, which reached the quarterfinals for the third straight season last year, returns eight starters, including three senior all-state honorees: pitcher Andrea Lash (38-19 career record), infielder Alexis Livingstone and outfielder Brittany Strothers.
3. Vincentian: The Royals went 13-10 last year but have a solid nucleus back, led by a pair of seniors — Danielle Melvin (.474, 29 RBI) and Katie Yough (.494, 30 RBI). Melvin will also be the No. 2 pitcher behind junior Kim Corcoran, a transfer from Fox Chapel who hit .410 last year. Jeannette, led by senior infielder Delaney Cortazzo, could contend after dropping down from Class AA.
4. Neshannock: The defending Class AA state champion dropped down to Class A and is a team that coach Tracy Kimmel said has more talent than he ever thought he would see at one time. Madison Altmyer, Madison Shaffer and Rayanna Furst all were all-section players a year ago. Shenango returns seven starters, including three-year letter winner Jenna Petrucci.
Players to watch
Sr., SS, Carmichaels
An all-state selection after batting .400 with 21 RBI last season, she is a four-year letter winner.
Jr., 1B, Neshannock
A 6-foot tall college prospect, she is one of several power hitters for the Lancers.
Sr., inf., Frazier
This all-state player hit .522 with a .804 slugging percentage last season.
Sr., C, Carmichaels
The all-state backstop hit .442 with 29 RBI last year and is a four-year letter winner.
So., OF, Serra Catholic
She hit .537 with two home runs and nine doubles as a freshman all-state selection.
Chartiers-Houston won the WPIAL title, 3-2, over Carmichaels and lost in the PIAA quarterfinals. Sto-Rox also qualified for the state tournament.
— Compiled by Bill Hartlep
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