Northern suburbs softball squads primed for WPIAL playoff run
The softball playoffs are upon us, and this season saw a return to the postseason for Pine-Richland and Hampton, and Shaler overcame some early questions to make a run.
Pine-Richland Lady Rams
An 8-4 section record and 9-6 overall record was more than enough for the Lady Rams to get to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. With wins over playoff-bound teams Shaler and Hampton, the Lady Rams have looked impressive at times.
The team lost three of its final four games but boasts a stellar lineup beginning with pitcher Izzy Tortorice. Tortorice is not known for throwing a ton of strikeouts, but the senior pitcher controls games and trusts her infield to make plays.
“If we hit, I think we can beat anyone,” Pine-Richland coach Patty White said. “We have a lot of speed at the top of the lineup.”
Maura Kelly has been stellar in center field, and Steph Zentz has done her part at second base. Julia Frazier catches everything at first, according to White, and Alyssa Clark has been great behind the plate.
Shaler Lady Titans
At the beginning of the season, a massive hole cause by last year's graduation forced coach Skip Palmer to thrust several underclassmen into the starting lineup. Shortstop has been the glue for the team while it found its feet, but now the Lady Titans look ready for another run.
A 9-3 section record and 12-5 overall mark is good for a veteran team, let alone a largely underclass team. With big wins over Hampton and North Allegheny, Shaler proved it could beat playoff-caliber competition.
With the season at stake and a freshman on the mound, Palmer's message is a simple one.
“Go have fun,” he told Brianna Dobson, who has won 12 games in her first season. “It will be a new experience for a lot of them, but we treated the last few games like playoff games and once we take the field they will be into it after an inning or two.”
One player Palmer knows is up to the pressure of playoffs is senior shortstop Maddie Mulig.
“The one thing we can control is our attitudes,” Mulig said. “Our skill is there. I know I have to be a leader and get in the zone.
“There is a pressure that comes with playoffs, especially for seniors, because it could be our last game. I can't stress how fun the playoffs are, it just gets better each win and it's so exciting seeing who you play next.”
Hampton Lady Talbots
Some sections can boast about how competitive they are, but Hampton needed a win in its final section game against Highlands to force a four-way tie for second place and qualify for the playoffs in the process.
Hampton was 5-5 in the section and did everything it could to play up a level of competition by scheduling Class AAAA teams Shaler, Gateway, Plum, Fox Chapel and Pine-Richland. The team has a solid infield with Breanna Lent and Amber Martinelli playing key roles. Paige Paskorz anchors the outfield, and Rachel Pletz has done well behind the plate.
Coach Ron Fedell said perhaps the biggest factor was the emergence of senior pitcher Claire Welka.
The key for the team to have success is avoiding the “one bad inning” that has plagued it at times this season, according to Paskorz.
Vincentian Lady Royals
A new coach has yielded successful results for the Lady Royals, and another trip to the playoffs was the result. An 8-4-section record and 8-5 overall mark. The Lady Royals are small in numbers but mighty. The team, which often had only nine or 10 players at the disposal of coach Joe Baczek, pulled together and pushed through injuries and adversity.
The unsung hero of the team is Sylvia Ciocca, according to Baczek. Ciocca came on midseason to fill in for some injured players and allow the Lady Royals to put nine players on the field.
Pitcher Kim Corcoran has been huge in the field and at the plate, batting .700 on the season.
Kara Shannon showed her toughness playing through a bad ankle much of the season. Danielle Melvin is another key player at first who played through the pain this season, and Baczek said he admired her effort. Kaitlin Donnelly had to move from the outfield to second base to help out, and Mary Mazur has improved at short and as the leadoff hitter, a move up the lineup for her.
Natalie Milas was the leadoff hitter, but a concussion forced her to relinquish those duties and play outfield. Serena Morreale made the move from second to third to help fill the lineup, and Baczek said she has done well with the transition. Danni Schneider has been helping out in left field and did a great job against Riverview, a win that helped the team get into the playoffs.
The season has been one of mixing and matching, and the team hopes it can gel in time to make a playoff push.
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.