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Latrobe softball enters playoffs with momentum

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Latrobe's Shelby Noel delivers a pitch during a game against North Allegheny Thursday, April 24, 2014, in McCandless. Latrobe won, 9-6.

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By Ed Phillipps
Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

There was a point midway through the season when the Latrobe softball team's playoff chances appeared to be dwindling. After a 5-0 start to the season, the Wildcats stalled out with two losses in four games, including a 1-0 defeat at Connellsville on April 17.

“We were at a point where we weren't sure if we were going to make the playoffs,” senior first baseman Shelby Noel said. “We realized we need to play our hardest every game and we can't let up on anyone. We realized we were better than that (loss at Connellsville).”

The Wildcats proved it by going on a tear to end the regular season, winning six of their final eight games. That streak included a regular-season ending nonsection loss at Seneca Valley in which most of the starters rested and a playoff spot was already secure. Fifth-seed Latrobe was scheduled to play Woodland Hills at Hempfield Tuesday in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

“I knew we had a very good chance of making it into the playoffs,” Noel said. “We're a very good team with very good softball players.”

Noel was the team's best hitter, sporting a robust .600 average to go with six doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs. The other top hitters included Alexus Fearer (.370), Jenna Adams (.347) and Ashley Perillo (.304). As a team, the Wildcats batted .316.

They weren't just a hot-hitting squad, either. Section 1-AAAA co-champion Latrobe boasted a fielding percentage of .962.

The biggest question coming into the season was who was going to stand atop the pitcher's mound. It was freshman Meredith Carr who distanced herself from the pack by going 11-3 with 85 strikeouts and an ERA of .814.

“It took a couple games to figure everything out and sort it out,” coach Alexa Bryson said of the pitching competition. “We're very happy with what she's done and she's had a great season.”

Bryson is in her first year as Latrobe's head coach, but she has been to the playoffs with the Wildcats many times before. She is the winningest pitcher in school history after going 58-15 and winning WPIAL titles in 2007 and 2008.

“She knows what to do in these kind of games,” Noel said.

Bryson said there was no secret to her success and this year's team can do just as well.

“I try to just have them grasp the mental aspect of playing one game at a time,” Bryson said.

If the Wildcats are able to advance, teams like top-seeded Canon-McMillan, Shaler and Penn-Trafford, a team Latrobe split with in section play, could be lurking. If the Wildcats can keep playing as well as they did in the second half of the season, they will be a tough out for anyone.

“I always thought that our team can hang with anyone we encounter if we play our game,” Bryson said.

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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