West Mifflin softball coach Phillips has deep ties to South Hills
When West Mifflin takes on Mt. Pleasant in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AAA softball playoffs today, Thursday, the game will have a decidedly South Hills feel. And not just because of West Mifflin's geographic location.
The Lady Titans are coached by Casey Phillips, a man who is perhaps more woven into the fabric of South Hills scholastic sports than anyone else.
A Baldwin native, Phillips was a fixture in local community sports as a youngster. Once he got to Baldwin High School, the 1995 graduate was a standout on the baseball diamond and football field, ultimately emerging as the Fighting Highlanders' starting quarterback.
After graduation, Phillips went on to hold softball and football coaching positions with his hometown teams, further entrenching him in the South Hills scene.
These days, Phillips is a middle school social studies teacher at Brentwood, yet another South Hills school district, where he also is an assistant varsity football and middle school basketball coach.
That is all in addition to his duties as the head softball coach at West Mifflin.
“Sometimes I feel like I coach half the South Hills,” he said.
And he's more than simply a coach, he's successful. In fact, when the Lady Titans (15-4) take the diamond today, it will be the team's first playoff appearance since 1998.
Coaching has been a dream for Phillips since he was quite young.
“It's something I always wanted to do,” he said. “I can remember in eighth grade, I wanted to teach and coach football.”
Phillips said his desire to become a coach intensified when he played football for former Baldwin coach Don Yannessa.
“He was very influential on my life,” Phillips said. “I thought, ‘here's a guy who is a motivator, a guy with all of this bravado who motivated me as a young person. I'd like to be that kind of person, be a motivator.'”
Yannessa clearly thought Phillips had what it takes to be a coach, hiring him as a middle school quarterbacks coach in 1997 when Phillips was just 19 and still in college. He moved up to ninth grade quarterbacks coach in 2001, and was the varsity quarterbacks coach from 2002 to 2004.
Following a Baldwin coaching change, Phillips joined Brentwood's staff as quarterbacks coach in 2005, a position he holds today. He also started coaching middle school boys' basketball in 2004.
Getting into the softball coaching world was a bit more of a journey. Phillips obviously never played competitive fast-pitch softball, but he was a quality baseball player since he was a very young.
The opportunity to coach softball came in 2001 when he was hired as a Baldwin assistant thanks to a football connection.
“Carl Geisler, who was my quarterbacks coach when I played for Baldwin, was the head softball coach,” Phillips said. “When he was coaching me, we became very good friends. He needed an assistant.”
Always a competitor and a lover of all sports, Phillips embraced the opportunity. He took the time to learn the nuances of softball from Geisler, and was quickly around high levels of success as Baldwin captured a WPIAL title in his first year with the program.
When Geisler was hired by West Mifflin in 2008, Phillips joined him as an assistant. He then took over the program in 2009, inheriting a team that had won just a handful of games the previous five years.
Phillips worked to not only teach softball to the West Mifflin players, he wanted to change the culture. The team went 7-9 overall that first year.
“It was kind of a rebuilding project,” Phillips said. “We did some things to try to change the culture around.
They weren't working out in the offseason; they were just showing up in March and thinking it was time to play. Our four senior leaders have been here through the tough times. They're really the catalyst that turned things around.”
Those four seniors are center fielder Amanda Leschak, shortstop Marla Small, second baseman Kaylyn Andress and third baseman Sydnei Zalic.
Phillips also praised his assistants, Curt Grier and Chelsea Faynor, and is confident the senior team members and his staff can guide the Lady Titans deep into the playoffs.
“I think, if we play the way we are capable of playing, we can play with anybody,” Phillips said.
“We've played great defense all year. If we can get timely hits and make the most of our opportunities on the base paths, our defense gives us a chance to win every game.”
The Lady Titans' first-round game today against Mt. Pleasant is scheduled to begin at 5 at Hempfield High School.
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.