Kittanning softball team covets playoff berth after 2013's near-miss
One year after a four-team tiebreaker left Kittanning out of the WPIAL softball playoffs, the Wildcats are ready to avoid that scenario this year.
The Wildcats are one of four area teams trying to get back into the WPIAL playoffs, and Freeport and Leechburg will be striving for repeat appearances when the 2014 season gets underway beginning Friday.
Kittanning ended last season on a six-game win streak, which included a victory over Indiana that the Wildcats thought would send them to the playoffs. A Knoch upset of Mars on the same day instead created a four-way tie of 5-5 teams in Section 5-AAA, and head-to-head results left out the Wildcats.
Defending champ Mars again is expected to be the top team, but the remaining playoff spots should be up for grabs in one of the WPIAL's most even sections.
“I think Mars is No. 1, and everybody else is going to be chasing,” Kittanning coach Tom Emminger said. “We're trying to fill in with younger kids, and we're looking OK. I think it's going to be competitive from top to bottom.”
The Wildcats' senior leadership will come from shortstop Terra Schall, pitcher Emily Kutch and center fielder Georgie Shoop.
Kutch — also a second baseman — will be in her first year as Kittanning's No. 1 in the circle, but Emminger already was praising the work of her, Schall and Shoop, who moves from the corner outfield slots to center this season.
“They're doing an excellent job of taking the younger kids in their hands and helping them along,” Emminger said. “Each senior has their spot — Emily pitching, Terra in the infield and Georgie in the outfield — and it's coming along nicely with them.”
Kittanning also has junior Maggie McCanna returning at third base, and many of the other positions have two or three players vying for them. Emminger said he expects to play at least two or three sophomores.
Ford City is similar to Kittanning in that it also was the top team to miss the playoffs from Section 3-AA. The Sabers also have a new No. 1 in the circle, sophomore Jess Jubec, but she gained pitching experience last year when senior starter Andrea Markilinski missed time with a concussion.
“Jess is going to be our go-to girl,” Ford City coach Bill Richard said. “Any time you have a younger pitcher going in, that experience can only help in the long run.”
The Sabers also have infield veterans in senior Bethany Meyer, who moves to shortstop, and junior second baseman Karlee Smith. Richard said he hopes to also get offense from returning junior Lexi Turek and junior newcomer Christina Davis, but fielding is a concern to start the season.
“I don't know how ready we are because we can't get on the field, but the weather has put a damper on a lot of teams,” Richard said. “We've had a lot of time in the cage and should score some runs. If we can put it together in the field, we should be OK.”
West Shamokin has the most players returning of local teams, but senior pitcher Alicia Calhoun only recently returned to action after recovering from a concussion. Senior catcher Tori Lowry is likely out until the end of the month after surgery.
But with a strong group of hitters that includes senior center fielder Kelly Clowser, sophomore infielder/pitcher Stephanie Schrecengost and junior shortstop Haley Buckley, the Wolves are poised to make their own push.
“I think we'll get more wins that last year with another year's experience,” West Shamokin coach Jim Ellenberger said. “We really do have some talented girls, and we played teams like Burrell and Redbank Valley tough last year. If our pitching gets healthy and comes through, we should be much better.”
Apollo-Ridge also hopes to make an upward move, led by the hitting of senior Dana Speranza and sophomore pitcher Mariah Laird. Deer Lakes, Burrell and Freeport again appear to be the teams to beat.
The Yellowjackets return a strong cast of hitters, including seniors Alexis Roenigk and Alyssa Ravotti and juniors Karlie Hill and Jessica Kelley, all of whom can play multiple positions.
Leechburg also has a strong returning group from its playoff team a year ago, and the Blue Devils should again challenge for the Section 3-A crown.
Despite losing starting pitcher Kenzie Young, the team brings back seven starters, including shortstop Miranda Reesman, first baseman Kassidi Horrell, catcher Monica Emricko and Lindsey Rowe, who will start the year moving from second base to the pitcher's circle.
“Like every year, I feel like we can win (the section),” Leechburg coach Jim Oberdorf said. “We definitely have more power, and I like what I've seen in the field. If Rowe can come through for us pitching, which I think she will, I think we're going to be much better than last year.”