Bishop Canevin, Keystone Oaks softball look for a return to postseason
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Western Pennsylvania finally has started to thaw out, and the softball teams of the WPIAL are getting ready to take to the field.
The Signal Item area teams found success last season as two reached the WPIAL playoffs and another fell just one game short. The following is a look at what each team expects to achieve this season.
Coming off a 9-7 record and an appearance in the WPIAL Class A playoffs, the Crusaders are expecting to continue their growth — despite having only one senior.
The team's only senior is first-year player Alaina McGuire, who also runs track and will provide speed for the Crusaders' baserunning. Despite its youth, Bishop Canevin returns plenty of talent to compete for its second straight WPIAL playoff berth.
Junior Kylee Sonson will make her debut on the mound after playing in the field and behind Hayley Klein last season.
“(Sonson) has got speed and sharp throws,” Bishop Canevin coach Karen Seitz-LaFianza said. “Just because she hasn't started doesn't mean she doesn't have experience. She plays year-round. She has pitched in a ton of games.”
There will be plenty of experience across the field to help the first-year starter. Kaitlin Sonson will return for her third season behind the plate. Sophomore Alexis Pilch returns after a strong debut season at third base. Fellow sophomore Caroline Clarke will provide extra support in the infield.
The question mark for the team will be the outfield. Junior Amy Calabrese will take over center field after being a backup the last two seasons. Sarah Temple likely will debut in the outfield after not playing softball since eighth grade. Sophomore Daisha Reed will fill in the other spot.
“(Reed) has some really good instincts,” Seitz-LaFianza said. “(Calabrese) is a solid player that has developed a lot of the years.”
Seitz-LaFianza said her squad will be strong at the plate. Instead of focusing on putting up a bunch of runs, Bishop Canevin has worked at being consistent and getting runners on base.
“We're not going to score 20 runs a game,” Seitz-LaFianza said. “Our focus will be putting the ball in play and putting the pressure on the other team.”
“I don't see why we can't be the team right behind (Burgettstown) and hopefully give them a few good games,” Seitz-LaFianza said. “Then we want to take the next step and win a few games in the playoffs.”
Mike Conlan takes over at Carlynton after spending the last three seasons at Montour, including one as head coach in 2013. He led the team to a 12-7 mark, a second-place finish in Section 2-AAA and an appearance in the WPIAL playoffs.
“After the season, Montour decided to go in another direction,” Conlan said. “I was the odd man out.”
Carlynton was one game shy of reaching the postseason after dropping a 2-1 decision to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart late in the season. The win t sent the Chargers to the WPIAL playoffs and left the Cougars at home.
The squad's 7-8 mark was the best since the Cougars went 9-9 in 2008.
For Conlan, the biggest thing the team will need to overcome is its own doubts. The program last reached the playoffs in 2008 but hit a low point in recent seasons — including going 0-16 in 2011.
“I have stressed to the girls you need to have pride,” Conlan said. “I know the team has been beaten up in the past. But everyone changes. They need to think positive. This team can win. We need to change the outlook of the program.”
The Cougars will receive an instant boost from pitcher Jordan Melko. The junior is a two-year starter and will provide the team a consistent presence on the mound. Melko participated at the Queens of Diamonds Showcase North at Kent State University during the offseason.
“Having a pitcher in softball is half the battle,” Conlan said. “As long as your pitching is strong and your fielding is adequate, you have a chance to win games. Having someone like (Melko) makes my job easier.”
The team also will have a capable backup pitcher in Abby Diulus. The sophomore typically will play at first base when not needed on the mound.
Senior Tori Ventosco will give the Cougars an experienced presence at shortstop.
With only one senior and three juniors, the team will be drastically young. While Conlan said the team will take some bumps early, a continued progression could lead to big things by the end of the season.
“The first couple of games, we will be at a disadvantage,” Conlan said. “I hope we come out fast. But we want to make sure we are going in the right direction. Once the girls get more playing time, this team can be really good.”
Things started well for the Chartiers Valley softball team and first-year coach Jeff Reicoff last season.
The Colts were 4-2 and in the hunt for a playoff berth before the injury bug hit, leading to girls playing out of their normal positions.
Chartiers Valley finished on a 2-7 skid.
Reicoff — in his 20th season as a head coach — said the squad will be ready to compete for a playoff appearance this year.
“If we had a win here or there, we would have been right there in the playoff battle last season,” Reicoff said. “We have been impressing upon the girls how in close games a mistake in the field or one bad inning can cost us the game. Our goal this season will be to compete for a playoff spot.”
Three seniors return to lead the team. Catcher Libby Chidlow, outfielder Jill Dunn and shortstop Brittany Kane are all multi-year starters and should provide strong leadership to the 11 underclassmen on the roster. Chidlow filled in at shortstop last season while Kane was injured.
The team will return pitcher Madison Zimmer. After an up-and-down season as a sophomore, Zimmer will try to find consistent results.
“She has been working really hard,” Reicoff said. “Her speed has improved. She is hitting her spots better. And with (Chidlow) behind the plate, she will be able to help (Zimmer). (Chidlow) brings a wealth of knowledge, a great arm and great skills.”
Juniors second baseman/outfielder Karley O'Keefe and outfielder Libby Schneider, along with sophomore first baseman Maddie Kresak, should make an impact this season.
The Colts have several strong batters in Chidlow (.392 average), Dunn (.368), Schneider (.344) and Kane (.296).
While the team is going to be able to get the bat on the ball, working on the other aspects of offense will be key as the weather breaks and the Colts move practice outside.
“We're working on it,” Reicoff said. “At this stage we are still practicing hitting inside. I think all the girls have made strides hitting. But we want to do the simple things like advance the runner to second base and be able to execute bunts that get the runner into scoring position.”
The returning experience will be needed for a loaded Section 4-AAAA. Canon-McMillan will be the favorite to repeat as section champs after winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2013.
Add solid squads from Baldwin, Brashear, Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township, and the section will have a major battle for the three playoff berths.
“It is going to be close,” Reicoff said. “A team that finishes 8-6 or even 7-7 will qualify for one of the playoff spots. It will be that close.”
Since Mark Kaminski took over as coach of the Golden Eagles, the team has been a power during the regular season with a 23-11 mark over two seasons and back-to-back second-place finishes in Section 1-AA.
But as much success as Keystone Oaks has had in the regular season, the WPIAL playoffs have not yielded the same results. The Golden Eagles have been eliminated in the first round both seasons.
“We need to do better in the postseason,” Kaminski said. “That falls on my shoulders. We are focused on trying to get into the state tournament this season.”
Freshman Lauren McMillen will take over pitching duties for the team.
“She is tall and is about (6-foot-1),” Kaminski said. “And she is a hard thrower. She plays a lot of travel ball, so stepping in like she will won't be a big deal for her.”
Despite losing five players from a season ago, the Golden Eagles return plenty of talent across the field to back up their rookie pitcher. Seniors shortstop Meghan Staab, catcher Mariah Callas, outfielder Eryn Caragein and third baseman Brittany Winkowski will provide leadership. Junior second baseman Bri Fischer and sophomore infielder Mariah Agurs will provide experience.
The returning talent will allow the team to maximize its high-scoring offense. The Golden Eagles showed a mastering of stealing bases and advancing runners and scored five or more runs in 11 games last season.
“We return a lot of speed,” Kaminski said. “We return a lot on offense. We shouldn't miss a beat.”
Kaminski said the Section 1-AA title chase will come down to Seton-La Salle and his squad.
The Golden Eagles have been swept in the seasons series with their cross-street rival over the past two seasons.
To get ready for the WPIAL season, Keystone Oaks is spending the majority of this week at a tournament in Cookesville, Tenn.
“Getting reps in is always a good thing,” Kaminski said. “You cannot get enough live pitching. We want to get as many games and at-bats as we can in.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.
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