Jeannette softball chasing program's second playoff appearance
History hasn't always been nice to the Jeannette softball team.
The Jayhawks have just one playoff appearance in school history (2010), but the second may not be too far down the road.
Coach Dee Cortazzo's squad, winners of four straight lopsided contests, improved its Section 3-A mark to 4-2 on Tuesday with a commanding 10-1 victory over Geibel.
In the victory, freshman pitcher Mary Katherine Paulone made her first varsity start — and it was quite a memorable one as she delivered a 13-strikeout no-hitter.
“She really stepped in and delivered a great performance,” Cortazzo said. “Last year, we only really had one pitcher. I think, with Mary Katherine's performance, we now have two we can count on to carry us along.”
The Jayhawks have rebounded from a 1-3 start in which they scored just 15 runs. Since then, Jeannette has averaged just less than 10 runs per game over its past four outings.
“We're starting to jell now,” Cortazzo said. “I thought it would take several games being that we were inside most of the spring. As a whole we've been kind of sporadic, but the last week or so the girls have really been seeing the ball well and putting it in play.”
Jeannette dropped to Class A this season, and one of Cortazzo's main goals is teaching the team how to win. The Jayhawks finished just 4-12 last season and lost eight players to graduation.
“This is still a pretty inexperienced bunch,” she said. “We have a lot of players playing new positions, but overall I really thought we had the makeup to be a competitive team.”
The Jayhawks dropped two games to Vincentian Academy (4-2, 4-2) and Riverview (5-3, 5-1) — two Class A perennial powers — but rebounded to shut out Vincentian, 10-0, two days after a loss to the Royals.
Cortazzo sees Jeannette being in the thick of the section title race at the midway point.
“There are a lot of strong teams down here,” she said. “We won at Leechburg (5-1, 5-1), and they are a very good team. We will see them again and get another shot at Riverview coming up. Those are going to be huge games for us.”
One key player for the Jayhawks is junior pitcher Nicole Hall, who is not only Jeanette's top pitcher but also one of its top hitters.
“Nicole has a very calming presence,” Cortazzo said. “She never loses her head and is really a leader on the field and off. I really believe, in this game, your pitcher has to stay calm and not get frazzled. She does a great job of staying in control, and her teammates feed off of it.”
Senior Delaney Cortazzo leads the offense, hitting more than .500 in the early going.
Dee Cortazzo isn't necessarily expecting her team to continue scoring double-digit runs but is enthused by it.
“It's been hard to single out our top hitters lately,” she said. “Really, one through nine have all been hitting the ball well. We are even getting some hits off the bench.”
At the halfway point, it's safe to say the Jayhawks are exceeding expectations after a lackluster season a year ago.
“So far so good,” Dee Cortazzo said. “We're right in the thick of things and have put ourselves in position to be in the playoff race. We're going to continue working hard and hope it turns out well for us.”
Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.