Hempfield softball in rare position out of postseason
Finishing with eight wins in section play normally is not considered a down year for a program; it also typically allows a team to qualify for the playoffs. But this year in Section 1-AAAA was not like any other year.
The Hempfield softball team, which had qualified for the playoffs in 31 straight seasons, ended the season 12-6 overall and 8-4 in section play.
The Spartans also finished in fourth place in Section 1, just one spot away from a WPIAL postseason berth.
“The fact that we got two teams in the final four in WPIAL playoffs (Penn-Trafford, Latrobe) tells you that we had a very good section,” said Hempfield coach Bob Kalp, who finished his 18th season with the Spartans. “All teams can beat you on any given day. It makes the section a lot of fun, and I have a lot more fun when the team wins.”
The Spartans, who had an inexperienced team going into the season, weren't able to get on the right side of luck this season and made an abnormal amount of mistakes that cost some crucial games. The Spartans made 28 errors through 18 games, compared to 30 errors in 25 games a season ago.
“There were a few games where we made multiple errors. In those games, you just give the game away when you do that,” Kalp said. “In both the Norwin games we had multiples errors. It cost us half a dozen unearned runs. When you do that against section teams you aren't going to win. You aren't going to win section and you aren't going to qualify (for the playoffs).”
The success of the Spartans' rivals in section play combined with the Spartans' slow start, Hempfield needed to win one crucial game against Latrobe. However, the Spartans were unable to get a runner home in many situations with runners in scoring position and fell to the Wildcats, 2-0.
Then two days later, Hempfield had to face Penn-Trafford, which had a chance to win the section title outright. Hempfield ended up finishing on a strong note, defeating Penn-Trafford, 7-1, and Mt. Pleasant, 14-1.
“Latrobe and Norwin were both hoping we would go to P-T and we would beat them. We maybe played our best game of the year. We didn't make an error in the field and made so good plays. We also hit the ball pretty well,” Kalp said. “It ended up to be a three-way tie for first place. We still had a say in who will win the section. It won't be us, but we have a say in it.”
The Spartans were led by senior first baseman Kasey Kolick — the school record holder for career batting average (.465), home runs (12) and RBIs (73). This year, she hit .483 with five doubles, four home runs and 23 RBIs. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Hoffman, who batted second, hit .519 with three doubles and six RBIs.
On the mound, the Spartans received a strong season from freshman Morgan Ryan, who went 9-3 with a 2.65 ERA. Ryan was two wins shy of tying a school record set by Hope Pehrson.
Hempfield will only lose three to graduation this year — Kolick, catcher Alaina Montgomery and Taylor Kusma, in comparison to only returning five starters from a season ago. Since Kalp loves to find playing time for around 15 players a game, the Spartans should be able to move some role players to more prominent roles next season.
“I had 20 kids participate in varsity action. We play a ton of kids in games. I'm not real happy if I look at my scorecard after the game's over and if I haven't played 13 or 14 kids,” Kalp said. “I'm saying I'd like to get more kids in. Their role players as pitch runners and pitch hitters. That's how you get them experience. That's a plus for the future.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.