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Franklin Regional softball looks to improve in 2014

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional second baseman Mary Komandt runs down Norwin baserunner Lyndsay Robinson during their Tuesday, April 2, 2013, contest in Murrysville.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional Athletic Association pitcher Cara Markowitz delivers during the under-15 Eastern Girls Fast Pitch Softball League championship game on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, at Townsend Park in Murrysville.

The Franklin Regional softball team's first season in the challenging Section 1-AAAA didn't go as well as the Panthers hoped, as they finished in last place and missed the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Heading into their second season, the Panthers are hoping for a rebound.

“We knew going in it was going to be tough, and it's a challenge,” Franklin Regional coach Jim Armstrong said of the difficulties of facing Latrobe, Hempfield, Penn-Trafford and Norwin, among others. “We're up for challenges, and you've got to play where you're put. We try to do the best we can and fell a little short last year, and I think we're going to make a little better run this year at them.”

The Panthers started 2-1 in section play last season but ended up losing their last nine games.

“We always look forward to going to the playoffs, but it was a big step up with the new section,” said senior Alexa Fike, a four-year starter at third base. “It was a big learning experience.”

Last season, the Panthers relied on a younger lineup for much of the season. The youth hasn't changed much, as Armstrong said a number of younger players would dot the team's lineup this season.

The youth begins at pitcher, where sophomore Cara Markowitz will start, with freshman Brooke Zanotto backing her up. Markowitz saw some time at pitcher last season along with Dana Bacharach, who graduated.

“Hempfield always has good pitchers up there, and P-T has a very good pitcher this year,” Armstrong said. “Norwin typically has good pitchers, and Latrobe. So there are some good pitchers in this section, and having the pitching is where it starts.”

Fike and juniors Angela Buccilli and Taylor Nonnenburg will anchor the Franklin Regional lineup, while seniors Alissa Lockwood and Mary Komandt also have experience.

The roster includes nine freshmen.

“I think this freshman class is really talented,” Buccilli said. “There's a lot of freshmen this year that I think can play on varsity, and some even might. There's some good fielders and good hitters. I think they'll be helpful this season.”

The players said they were focusing on offense this season after the team two or fewer runs in seven of its 12 section games last season.

“Basically, I feel all of our fielding capabilities are pretty strong,” Buccilli said. “I think we can hit, as long as we're in the right mental ability and can just adapt to what we're given.”

The 2014 season will mark Franklin Regional's last in Section 1-AAAA for the time being, as WPIAL realignment will move the Panthers to a new section with Allderdice, Fox Chapel, Gateway, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills for the 2015-16 seasons.

The Panthers are hoping to make a strong final impression before they leave. After nonsection games against Ellwood City and West Mifflin last weekend, Franklin Regional was scheduled to open section play against Hempfield on Wednesday, past the deadline for this week's edition. The team is scheduled to travel to Norwin at 4 p.m. Friday.

“Our goals are really to improve and work our way up to where we need to be,” Armstrong said. “Our goal is to get back to being a good softball team, doing things the right way and doing things the way we should.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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