McKeesport freshman Falce named D-N Softball Player of the Year
Last year Missy Conrad took a day out of her normal coaching duties and went to watch the McKeesport eighth-grade team to get a preview of what she had coming up through the system.
She never thought she would find a player like Vanessa Falce, who could be the Tigers' starting shortstop for the next four years.
“When I first saw her, she was actually catching and the first word out of my mouth, literally, was ‘Wow,' ” Conrad said. “She threw the ball kneeling down to second base and I was very impressed. When I was mixing my girls around with what I had, I realized that she would fit much better at shortstop.”
Not only did Falce adapt quickly to the move, she thrived. The freshman enjoyed one of the best debut seasons by a position player in many years, leading to her selection as the 2013 Daily News Softball Player of the Year.
“There was a lot of pressure on me because I didn't know what expectations they held me to,” Falce said. “I had to perform at my best every day, and sometimes it got to me when I got into bigger roles.”
It doesn't get any bigger than starting two WPIAL playoff games. But the experience will only help as she prepares for her sophomore year.
“It makes it easier for me next year to not go in there and worry about it so much,” she said. “But I learned how hard it is to come in and play as a freshman in a key position.”
Falce led the Tigers with a .513 average, 10 homers and 40 RBI. She was a key cog as McKeesport (17-5) finished undefeated in Section 2 for the first time in school history and won its first WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game with an 11-10 victory over Baldwin at Fairhaven Park.
In addition, she hit two home runs in a game twice during the season, against Woodland Hills and Plum, batted third in the Tigers' order and played all but seven innings.
“A lot of her ability she already had and I just continue to keep her sharp,” Conrad said. “She came in as a freshman and, for her to come in and play shortstop, that's a lot of pressure. But she came in and she did it with ease and she spends a lot of extra time fielding and working with her bat.”
One reason for the position change is the team already had four-year starter Kasey Dansak slotted as the team's catcher. Another reason was that Falce was coming off shoulder surgery and hadn't gotten back all the strength in her throwing arm.
Making throws to first removed much of the stress that would have been placed on her shoulder as a catcher. Because her arm still wears out quickly, there is little chance she will move behind the plate next season to replace Dansak, the only starter on the team to graduate.
With her position in the field and her spot in the lineup set for 2014, the only thing Falce needs to do is take her game up another notch. If that's even possible.
“She's got a strong passion for the game and wants to play in college,” Conrad said. “The more she keeps working, she's only going to get better from here. The more experience she gets, the better she's going to be and she's going to go where she wants to go.”