Hempfield softball team bounces back after falling in semifinals
Hempfield's goal of winning a WPIAL softball title came to a halt last week at California (Pa.) University.
The Spartans were on the wrong end of a perfect game at the hands of Canon-McMillan's Alayna Astuto. The game was a rematch of last season's Class AAAA championship which the Big Macs won, 4-1.
“She just had everything,” Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said of Astuto's performance. “When you don't get a base runner, it's real hard to compete against a team of that caliber. We just couldn't get anything going.”
But Hempfield (17-6) didn't waste time sulking after the loss. The next day, Kalp's team scrimmaged District 6 power Ligonier Valley in an effort to stay sharp for its third-place consolation game against Peters Township (18-5). The plan worked, as Hempfield topped Peters Township, 9-5, Wednesday and advanced to the PIAA playoffs.
Despite not being able to do anything on offense, Kalp was positive about the effort his Spartans gave in the semifinals.
“Games like that can get ugly and out of hand real quick,” he said. “But we played a very strong defensive game and kept our composure. Canon-Mac hit well and played strong.”
Hempfield entered the season with high expectations. Seven regular players returned from last season's teams. The Spartans didn't reach one of their goals of winning the section but finished in second place. Kalp was pleased with the overall season the team has put together.
“At a place like Hempfield, the expectations in softball are always going to be high,” he said. “We may not have had the season we would have liked, but we accomplished a lot of things.
“We played and beat a lot of real good teams — Shaler twice, North Allegheny, Latrobe, Canon-Mac. There are a lot of top-tier programs at this level and we played well. We didn't win the section, but making it to the semifinals is a great accomplishment.”
Kalp points to his team having several under-the-radar players being a key to the program's sustained success.
One of which is senior second baseman Callie Madden, who recently has set three program records.
Madden, who Kalp refers to as a player you don't hear much about it but is an integral part of his team, now owns Hempfield records for most career assists (182), single season assists (74) and sacrifice bunts.
“You tend to only read about pitchers and home runs,” Kalp said. “But a player like Madden, as a coach, is nearly irreplaceable. She's probably one of the best defensive players to ever come through here and is going to be a big, big loss for this team when she graduates. She's the type of player that when a ball is hit on the right side you don't have to worry about anything.”
Kalp also pointed out another senior — pitcher Hope Pehrson — as someone who stepped up to have a huge season for the Spartans. Pehrson anchored the pitching staff, piling up 15 wins and a 1.66 earned run average.
“Hope was restricted early in the season (recovering from an injury),” Kalp said. “But she really stayed after it and kept getting stronger as the season went along. I'm very proud of her and the season she had.”
Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.