Sewickley Academy, Quaker Valley softball teams set to start season
Warmer temperatures? Longer days? Chirping birds?
It must be time for the 2014 WPIAL spring sports season.
The scheduled opening games of the softball season are on the horizon and both Sewickley Academy and Quaker Valley are looking for continued growth in 2014.
The Panthers finished last season with a 9-7 mark and reached the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. The team will look for major improvement after losing only two players to graduation.
“We won some close games down the stretch last season,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “There isn't a guarantee we will do better. What is good news is they are all a year older.”
Savannah Henry will return to the mound after getting a wealth of experience in her freshman season.
“She is our ace,” Palmer said. “She plays travel ball and works really hard. She has great control. She is only a sophomore but is a veteran sophomore. We're lucky to have her for the next three years.”
Henry should be aided by the return of junior Sarah Manzinger — who allowed only four stolen bases last season — behind the plate.
The defense as a whole should be improved; the team returns seven starters. In addition to Henry and Manzinger, Sewickley Academy will rely on first baseman Mackenzie Pryor — the team's only senior — and a pack of juniors, including center fielder Katie Maloney, right fielder Alexa Bartholomew, second baseman Hannah McGinley and third baseman Olivia Henry.
Junior Kat Goebbel — who hit .404 as a freshman — returns after missing last season with a broken finger. The coaching staff will place her at either shortstop or third base.
Junior Brianne Thomas and freshman Chandler White could both make an impact this season.
The section will be a little more wide open after Sto-Rox dissolved its program after last season. Palmer said Burgettstown is the favorite and is expecting tough games from Bishop Canevin, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and Cornell.
But with an added year of experience, the Panthers could be in line for an extended playoff run.
“The goal is playoffs,” Palmer said. “We made it the last two years and lost close both times. This year we just don't want to just make playoffs but win some games. We will need to use the experience from the last two years to help us perform and win some tight games.”
Quaker Valley, meanwhile, is seeing numbers in its program explode.
After a 3-10 season where the Quakers had only 11 girls on the roster, the team is now looking at more than 20 girls ready to compete.
“We have 10 freshman trying out for the team,” Quaker Valley coach John Tortorea said. “Some of them are going to have to play right away as we try to rebuild the program. We have high expectations and if we do the things the right way, the wins will follow.”
Junior Emily Dietrich will be in the pitching circle for the Quakers. She saw limited time behind then-senior Sara Francis last season.
Senior Alexis Glenn returns after playing first base last season and will provide a solid bat for the Quakers. Junior Molly Harkins will provide a presence at third base and will bat in either the three or four spot.
“(Harkins) is probably the biggest competitor on the team,” Tortorea said. “She swims and player soccer. She is a terrific kid and tough as nails.”
Juniors catcher/outfielder Emma Fortuna and shortstop Cassie Heath both have multiple years of experience.
Tortorea said the squad will be young this season, with as many as three or four freshman filling out the lineup.
While the team has been stuck in the gym for many of the early practices, the Quaker Valley coaching staff came up with a plan to best utilizes the unfavorable confines.
“Right now, we have girls in three different stages of development,” Tortorea said. “We have three different groups. We have one coach working with girls who have never played before. We have another working with the younger girls who need some development and I work with the older girls.”
Batting will be the major concern for the team entering the season. The team scored two runs or less in eight games last season, all of which were losses. Tortorea said more runs could lead to more wins.
“(Harkins) and (Glenn) are two of the best batters you can get in double-A,” the third-year coach said. “We need to set the table for them. We need to improve our scoring.”
Section 1-AA will again offer a difficult slate with the likes of Seton-La Salle, Keystone Oaks, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Carlynton. But if the Quakers can continue improving, a turnaround season isn't out of the question.
“If we can finish with a .500 record, that would be great,” Tortorea said. “If that gets us into the playoff hunt, so be it. It most importantly would help in building this program.”