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Baldwin freshman catcher Eberst relies on natural abilities

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The highlight of Kayla Eberst's high school softball season came in the seventh inning of a tied game against rival Mt. Lebanon.

Eberst, 15-year-old freshman catcher on the Baldwin varsity squad, belted a walk-off grand slam home run to end the game in spectacular fashion.

It was one of a team-leading five home runs this season for Eberst, who is a Division I college prospect according to her head coach, Samantha “Sam” Kuharic.

“She's an unbelievable talent, and she's only going to get better,” Kuharic said. “She just has natural ability.”

Baldwin's veteran field boss played softball collegiately at Penn State. She knows what it takes to play for a Division I university, and believes Eberst will be ready to do just that when she is a senior.

“She's going to be a Division I player, without a doubt,” Kuharic said. “She's going to be great.”

Eberst was most proud of her hitting this year, and her statistics confirm why.

She led the team in several areas, including batting average (.471), slugging percentage (.971), at-bats (70), hits (33), runs scored (22), home runs, triples (7) and RBI (18). She tied for the team lead with six doubles, and struck out only five times in 70 at-bats.

As the Lady Highlanders' starting catcher, Eberst also contributes significantly defensively.

“I love playing catcher. I get to take charge of the field,” she said.

Eberst credits her grandmother, Donna, for motivating her throughout her nine-year softball career.

“If I wanted to take a break, she would encourage me and tell me how far I could go,” Eberst said.

Eberst also plays softball for the Tri-State Venom, a travel team based out of Mt. Washington. The team travels locally and to neighboring states throughout the summer.

She has been playing for Tri-State for two years; the only break from sports she gets during a year is a couple of weeks in February after basketball season.

Eberst played on both the girls' varsity and junior varsity basketball teams at Baldwin in 2012-13.

Nonetheless, softball is her favorite sport.

“It's the sport I'm better at, and the one I think I can go further,” she said.

Several freshmen made significant contributions to Baldwin's playoff this season, including Eberst, pitcher/outfielder Ana Hale, outfielder Mallory O'Brien, second baseman Ashley Brady, pitcher/outfielder Jaimie Schleicher and utility player Charlotte Nieman.

O'Brien finished with a .448 batting average and scored 18 runs this season. She led the club in both stolen bases (8) and sacrifices (5).

Schleicher batted .397 with a .662 slugging percentage. She clouted four home runs, scored 19 runs and drove in 16 runs.

Hale hit .333 with a .404 slugging percentage, while Nieman hit .317 with a .383 slugging percentage.

Brady had a .254 batting average, scored 14 runs, and was not caught once in seven base-stealing attempts.

The freshman team members are a tight-knit group of athletes, many of whom played together on youth and travel teams before they started their high school careers.

Baldwin finished the 2013 campaign in third place in Section 4-AAAA behind Peters Township and Canon-McMillan.

The Lady Highlanders advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, where they fell to McKeesport in a wild first-round matchup, 11-10, to end up 11-9 on the year.

Eberst enjoys the camaraderie and teamwork required for softball.

She thinks the Lady Highlanders have a good core group that will be successful in the future. Eberst's goal is to win a WPIAL championship in softball at Baldwin.

“I think our chances are really high,” she said. “We have a really good group of girls.”

Jennifer Goga is a freelance writer.

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