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Lady Leps hope to return to playoffs

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon Area's Nicole Ashcraft is the Lady Leps' top returning hitter from a year ago..
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon Area's Lacey Washowich pitches against South Park at the Tom Rodriguez field in Washington Township, on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

There was something missing from the 2013 WPIAL softball playoffs, and that something was the presence of the Belle Vernon Area Lady Leopards.

After all, they made the postseason for 10 straight seasons under coach Tom Rodriguez.

“We struggled offensively and defensively most of the season,” he said. “However, we did manage to play very well the last week of the season as we played four playoff bound teams.”

BVA built momentum into the off-season with shutout wins over Mt. Pleasant and South Park and then lost one-run games to section champion Elizabeth Forward and eventual WPIAL champion Greensburg Salem.

The Lady Leps took that momentum into the offseason.

“This year we expanded on our strength and conditioning program,” Rodriguez said. “In addition to what we normally do, we are now lifting three to four times a week.”

Going with a young team a year ago, BVA returns eight letter winners in seniors Katie Anna, Alexis Ellin, Ashley Seman, and Angela Sullivan, juniors Nicole Ashcraft, Kaitlyn Faiola, Emily Frederick, and Lacey Washowich, and sophomore Erica Amoroso.

A year ago, Ashcraft led the team in hitting with a .391 average, 25 hits, two home runs, and 15 runs batted in. she also added two triples and a pair of doubles.

Sullivan hit 311 and led the team with 14 runs while Seman had 11 RBI's and led the team with five sacrifices.

However, despite having that many letter winners returning, Rodriguez has not named one starter at any position.

“As far as expectations, I have no idea after last year,” he said. “If the pitching holds up just a little … the kids are working hard.”

Amoroso, Washowich, or junior Sarah Simsic will be on the mound while either Sullivan or Ashcraft will be at catcher.

As far as specific positions, Rodriguez did not specify possibilities at any infield or outfield position.

The infielders in the running for playing time include Amoroso, Simsic, juniors Carley Askin and Natalie Church, Anna, Ellin, Faiola, Ashcraft, senior Mackenzie Taylor, and sophomore Alyssa Larson.

Battling for playing time in the outfield include Semen, Frederick, Sullivan, Faiola, Taylor, and Ashcraft.

Rodriguez, who is entering his 13th season and has a record of 175-80, also mentioned some of his ninth graders.

“There are some freshmen who have shown promise and could become a part of the mix,” he said.

The Lady Leps are once again in Section 3 AAA along with Elizabeth Forward, South Park, Southmoreland, Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin, and Yough.

BVA opens Friday when it heads to Ringgold in an exhibition game.

Bill Hughes is a freelance writer.

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