Expectations high for Steel Valley after last year's playoff success
When you win a playoff game for the first time in seven years and the main reason was the performances of your freshmen pitcher and catcher, expectations tend to escalate quickly.
Steel Valley softball coach Matt Janov knows all about that.
One year after stunning perennial Class AA power Burrell in a first-round playoff game as a No. 11 seed, the spotlight is on Steel Valley to not only win its first section title in 15 years, but to parlay that into a deep playoff run.
“We are trying to establish a winning mentality, so we are trying to keep the expectations high around here,” Janov said.
But high expectations usually don't surround a team with four starters who didn't play varsity softball last year and a team that lost five starters.
Steel Valley is off to a 2-0 start in Section 4-AA with wins over East Allegheny and South Allegheny before Thursday's first-place showdown with Charleroi was rained out.
And the Ironmen are doing it with five sophomore and freshman starters along with seniors Amanda Barnett and Kenzie Fisher who just came out for the team this year.
The lack of experience was troublesome for Janov coming into the season.
“I knew we would be competitive, but I didn't know what to expect,” he said. “With some of the younger kids, you never know what you are going to get from them until you get into a big game. But they did pretty well on Tuesday against South Allegheny. As we go on through the season and we keep getting more experience, we are going to get better.”
In the meantime, Janov is relying on the talented battery of Maddie Cotter and Chelsea Rohan.
Cotter tossed a one-hitter in her first varsity start last year and went on to help Steel Valley to a 12-7 record including the 2-1 playoff upset of Burrell.
“When you have a nice combination in place like Maddie and Chelsea, that's a nice foundation to build off,” Janov said. “They both performed well in the playoffs too. Those two are not settling on what they did last year. They are working hard to improve. Chelsea has taken it to another level this year as a leader and as a hitter. They are two of the hardest workers we have ever had in the program.”
The rest of Steel Valley's lineup doesn't have much experience.
Carley Rosso (center field) and Lisa Straub (first base) played last year, but that's about all the experience Steel Valley returns.
Freshman Krista Bayus is at shortstop and will pitch some with fellow freshman Veronica Sikora in left field. Rounding out the starting lineup are juniors Madi Smith (third base) and Sarah Parker (designated hitter) along with Barnett (right field) and Fisher (second base).
“Starting five freshmen and sophomores, we feel that we have a bright future,” Janov said. “We want to establish that winning mentality in the program. Last year showed us where we want to be and where we need to be.”
Steel Valley (2-1, 2-0) is tied with Charleroi (4-0, 2-0) atop the section standings, but Brentwood, South Allegheny and Greensburg Central Catholic will likely be contenders for a playoff spot by the end of the year.
“This section is pretty wide open and even at the top,” Janov said. “At this point, I can see anybody taking it.”