Mars softball's playoff trip ends sooner than expected

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It was a short playoff trip for the Mars girls softball team.

And a disappointing one.

The Planets saw their season come to a surprising end with a 5-3 loss to West Allegheny in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round game May 16 at Shaler High School.

“This is the most-talented team Mars has had, as a whole, in 15 years,” Mars coach Michele Goodworth said. “It's been tough. When you put so much time into everything; it's hard when good things come to an end, and you know the expectations are that you should still be playing. When you don't fulfill your expectations, it's hard.”

A year ago, Mars won the Section 5 title and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Planets beat West Allegheny, 6-2, but fell to Greensburg Salem, 5-2, in the quarterfinals.

With many players back, including one of the WPIAL's top pitchers in Taylor Rotz, the Planets looked to advance deeper in the playoffs and challenge for their first district crown since 2006. Mars defended its section title this spring, but ran into a roadblock against West Allegheny.

The Indians struck for five runs in the bottom of the first, two of which scored on an error. That left Mars facing a sharp 5-0 deficit.

“It was just very odd. We were in this position last year,” Goodworth said. “They had four hits and scored three runs and then an error allowed two more to score. Before you knew it, we were down five runs. We were just at a loss to explain it.”

However, Mars responded after the initial shock wore off.

“I just think it was very uncharacteristic. We pulled them in and told them it was time to regroup and change the momentum and we've scored five runs many times,” Goodworth said. “We just had to chip away.”

The Planets did exactly that. Rotz silenced West Allegheny from that point, as the Indians did not advance a runner past first the rest of the game. Mars scored a run in the second and two more in the third, but failed to bring any more home.

“Those last six innings were the best six innings we played as a team. They came tougher and relied on each other,” Goodworth said. “In order to come back, they knew they had to rely on each other. It was good to see them follow through. Unfortunately, our hits and runs didn't fall together at the same time.”

The Planets (9-10) lose Rotz to graduation. She finished with a 9-7 record and 128 strikeouts. She will play softball at NCAA Division-II Nova Southeastern in Florida.

“We'll miss her. It's going to be very difficult losing her,” Goodworth said. “Starting over is always difficult. The girls will have to work harder and do more for us to get further next year.”

The cupboard is far from bare, though. Mars returns eight starters, including junior shortstop Erin Hershman. She led Mars with a .404 batting average, 19 RBI, two triples and a program-record nine home runs. She gave a verbal commitment to play softball at Robert Morris University.

Rotz finished with a .387 average. She drove in 15 and had four doubles. Junior center fielder Kasey Jones hit .345 with 10 RBI and a homer. Sophomore first baseman Suzanne Papik hit .322 with two homers.

Freshman catcher Niki Schlegel (.281), freshman left fielder Blake Kitt (.288), junior designated hitter Jeanna Sybert (.212), freshman third baseman Mallory Eperesi (.204), junior right fielder Sarah Dailey and sophomore second baseman Kiernan Salada rounded out the lineup. Juniors Kassandra Johnson and Shelby Huber saw time in the outfield as well.

Schlegel and Kitt will compete for pitching duties next season. Both saw time in the circle this year.

“It's hard to tell, but right now, I think it'll be a combination of both. Maybe one will pitch three or four innings and the other will pitch the rest,” Goodworth said. “We haven't had that situation in a long time. Normally, we just ride someone a majority of the time. But that might have to be our approach. A lot can happen from now until then, though. There is a lot of room for experience. Both play summer ball, so we'll see. We hope to be back again next year.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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