Jeannette softball winning arms race in section

| Thursday, April 17, 2014

In his first year as coach of the Jeannette softball team, Zac Karas has a problem. But you won't hear him complain about it.

Jeannette (6-2, 6-0 Section 3-A) has the luxury of fielding three starting-quality pitchers, meaning Karas must decide each game whether he'll hand the ball to senior Nicole Hall, sophomore Mary Katherine Paulone or freshman Scarlett Stein.

Hall has earned the bulk of the work as a third-year starter, including shutouts against Ellis School and Vincentian Academy this season. But Paulone has more than proven herself after bursting on the scene by tossing a no-hitter in her first start as a freshman.

Although Stein has been used mostly in relief, Karas said he is just as confident in what the newcomer brings to the table.

Hall is used to having other talented pitchers around from her experience playing travel softball, and enjoys knowing the relief is there if she needs it.

“It takes a lot of the stress off,” Hall said. “It's nice for coach as well to know that after I leave there will be other people to take my place.”

Assistant coach Erica Bartholow — a four-year pitcher and 2013 graduate of Gannon — has used this time to work with the underclassmen to develop a new breaking pitch.

For all the talent the Jayhawks have put on the mound this year, they may have an even stronger collection in the batter's box. In their six section wins, they're averaging more than 14 runs per game.

“It's coincidental in the best possible way,” Karas said. “We have five seniors who all just hit the crap out of the ball. It's a great combination of players.”

For Jeannette to take the next step, it will have to do more than just rely on talent. The best teams in the WPIAL don't take plays off, Hall said, and fielding mistakes and other mental errors have at times kept Jeannette from reaching that same level of championship contention.

“You might not think it's a big deal to hit the cutoff man when you're up 15-0, but in the close games those things can come back to bite you,” Karas said. “We need to understand that it's important in all games.”

Jeannette was eliminated in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, losing 15-0 to eventual runner-up Carmichaels, and wasn't prepared for the quality of opponent it would face in the playoffs, Karas said. This season the Jayhawks scheduled games against Class AAAA McKeesport and Penn-Trafford to simulate games between playoff-caliber opponents with strong pitching.

“I feel like we're up there this time,” Karas said. “Our section doesn't get a lot of respect in terms of seeding and rankings, but we just do what we need to do and play teams tough.”

This time around, the Jayhawks hope it will be their pitchers who are surprising opponents.

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