Majority of roster returns to make Ambridge a WPIAL title contender
At a program with the recent prestige and success of Ambridge softball, a 16-2 section-championship regular season and WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal appearance last year wasn't enough.
Luckily, virtually the entire team returned this season to make amends.
The No. 2-ranked Bridgers lost just two seniors (only one who started) off last season's roster — and added some talent heading into this season in addition to the extra year of experience. The results have been what you'd expect — Ambridge is off to a 6-1 start heading into a scheduled showdown with Ellwood City on Thursday in which the Section 1-AAA lead is on the line.
“We only lost one player from last year and we have a really strong roster, so I think we have the potential to get to (the PIAA tournament),” senior catcher Jaymee Humbert said. “We have the pitching, and we have the solid defense.”
Despite the returning experience, the Bridgers have a combined 14 sophomores and freshmen on the roster compared to just five seniors and juniors. Coach Jim Huwar said attendance — and spirits — were high during offseason conditioning sessions and other team functions.
“Just some of the things that the older kids have done a good job with, their leadership with a lot of the younger kids,” Huwar said. “The experienced kids have done a good job getting them excited about softball and with their work ethic, and because of that it's been easy for us to get them motivated.”
One of Ambridge's most experienced and prominent returning players is senior pitcher Hannah Smith. She has been supplemented by sophomore Kelly Haslett at pitcher, giving the Bridgers two reliable arms.
“Hannah and Kelly, we know we can count on both of them any time we need them,” senior shortstop Hannah Krokonko said.
Smith, who had 100 strikeouts last season, also had the best batting average among Ambridge's players while serving as the cleanup hitter. Haslett, also a first baseman, typically bats third.
That's one spot behind Krokonko, who was hitting .364 entering the week and had provided strong defense. Sophomore leadoff hitter Heather Mueller has an average close to the .480 she posted last season. Mueller plays a variety of positions.
Huwar said Humbert joins Smith as a team leader and said Humbert has “delivered in key situations for us” both offensively and defensively.
Lauren Sivewright is a senior infielder who did not play last season but contributed to Ambridge as a freshman and sophomore. Ambridge's other senior, Lexi Hilzendeger, plays the corner infield spots.
Outfielder/second baseman Ellice Platz, outfielder Lauryn Fetkovich, outfielder/catcher Jill Loftus and first baseman Alexandra DeMarco are sophomores who also are typically in the lineup.
“We've got a bunch of strong bats up and down the lineup,” Humbert said.
Ambridge was a WPIAL finalist and PIAA tournament qualifier in four of the past eight years, winning WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2005.
“Hopefully, we can get back into the WPIAL championship and also into the state playoffs further than we did last year,” Huwar said. “But what we're trying to instill in them is to just take it one game at a time — especially this spring, when there's been no continuity at all because of weather.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.