Connellsville softball focusing on gaining playoff berth

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

The Connellsville softball team has picked up exactly eight wins in each of the past three seasons, none of which have ended with a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.

To reverse that trend, new coach Vaughn Hempfield has tried to create a competitive atmosphere around his team right from the start of workouts and practices.

“We have a lot of hard workers and we have girls that are aggressive and that makes for better competition,” Hempfield said. “A lot of girls can be plugged in anywhere, so if they just be themselves and take care of business, we should be okay.”

Hempfield is replacing Tom Nickelson, who resigned following the 2013 season. A 1980 graduate of Swissvale High School, Hempfield spent several seasons as a professional baseball player in the Kansas City Royals organization in the early 1980s. This will be Hempfield's first experience as a varsity coach.

“This will be interesting,” Hempfield said. “So far, it's been a joy and I think the girls are buying in. I'm just getting to know them and who the leaders are on the team. We have a nice mix from seniors to freshmen and we're trying to create a competitive spirit.”

Hempfield, who will be assisted by pitching coach Felicia Domasky, has a large number of players from which he can craft a team. The current roster is comprised of 28 girls.

The infield should be solid with juniors Kelsi Burkholder (third base), Alyssa Orndorff (shortstop) Jackie Cramer (second base) and senior Jena Bukovac (first base) likely to see plenty of playing time. Freshman Francesca Stefano has a shot to be the starting catcher.

Hempfield plans to use at least two pitchers. Junior Emily Keslar is scheduled to be a starter with Cramer coming in as a closer.

“With the new coach and a lot of girls, I think we'll have a strong team,” Cramer said. “If we play as a team, we can probably make the playoffs.”

Hempfield pointed out there are plenty of players in the mix for playing time in the flex position in the batting order , as well as the three positions in the outfield. Senior Marissa Keffer is a top candidate to play in the outfield. Keffer said she believes the team is capable of bigger and better things this season.

“Now that we have more experience, I think we'll be a lot better,” Keffer said.

According to Hempfield, being strong at the basics will go a long way in helping the Falcons get back to being a playoff contender.

“We have a decent infield and our outfield will be pretty quick, so we just have to make the routine plays,” Hempfield said.

Hempfield also noted that Connellsville suffered a number of narrow losses last year. He's hoping those games can be reversed this season.

“If we can get a couple of those, we can get in the playoffs,” Hempfield said. “That will be our goal, to get to the playoffs.”

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