Motivated Leechburg returns to WPIAL softball playoffs
For anyone younger than 27, Leechburg softball being in the WPIAL playoffs is as much a certainty of life as death and taxes.
But for a program with three WPIAL titles, 20 section crowns in 30 seasons, and now 27 consecutive playoff berths to its name, the last two trips to the postseason have been uncharacteristically short.
Two straight first-round exits are what has this year's players for Leechburg (10-3) motivated, and their aim is to string together a postseason run comparable to the great Blue Devils teams of the past.
“I don't want to end early this year. I'd be devastated if we lost (in the first round) again,” said senior pitcher Kenzie Young, a four-year varsity starter.
“With our team, there's no reason we shouldn't go far. I think we can beat any team on any given day,” senior right fielder Mindy McCorkle said.
Young is a holdover from Leechburg's last long playoff run in 2010, when the team reached the Class A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Vincentian and missing out on a spot in states with a loss to Bentworth in the third-place game.
But Young and her teammates don't need to be reminded of the program's history. In such a small town, they grew up knowing about that tradition and want to add to it.
“There's really not much around here,” McCorkle said. “You played softball, and you went to the (high school) games to watch them.”
“You watch those (high school) games your entire life, so when you get up there, you want to do exactly what those girls you watched did,” Young said.
This year's Leechburg team has shown its ability at the plate by scoring at least six runs in 10 of 13 games, and two of the games where the Blue Devils didn't came against talented Jeannette junior pitcher Nicole Hall.
Young, shortstop Miranda Reesman and third baseman Marissa George have been strong in the middle of the lineup, with second baseman and leadoff hitter Lindsey Rowe and left fielder Shelby Greene usually setting the table.
The team's hitting and Young's experience in the pitcher's circle bode well for Leechburg, but how sound the team is in the field may make the difference. Errors have hurt the club in the playoff losses of the last two years, and the players know they will have to be sound in the field to advance this year.
“We have a lot of strong hitters that can really hit some ropes, and that can help us get ahead in games,” Young said. “But our defense is what was lacking in those (playoff) games. We were hitting the ball, but the other team brought their defensive game, and we didn't necessarily come with that.”
The team is tuning up for the playoffs with its first nonsection games of the season, all against schools larger than Class A. Leechburg fell to Class AAA playoff team Highlands, 8-7, on Wednesday, and the team still has Class AAA Indiana and Class AA No. 1 Deer Lakes remaining on its nonsection slate.
“We don't play in the strongest section, so these are good games to show us what we're going to have to do to win in the playoffs,” Young said. “We're going to have to show up, or winning in the playoffs isn't going to happen for us.”
By gearing up against that level of competition, Leechburg's senior players plan to be ready for anyone in the playoffs, where they will get a chance to add to the long Blue Devils' softball tradition.
“We used to play minors and Little League together, and now we're the seniors,” McCorkle said. “This year has been really fun, and everybody on this team gets along and wants to win (in the playoffs).”