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Previewing the 2016 WPIAL softball season

| Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 10:00 p.m.
Hempfield head coach Bob Kalp presents winning pitcher Morgan Ryan with her championship medal following their 3-0 victory over North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game at California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilley Field on May 28, 2015, in California.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Hempfield head coach Bob Kalp presents winning pitcher Morgan Ryan with her championship medal following their 3-0 victory over North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game at California University of Pennsylvania’s Lilley Field on May 28, 2015, in California.
Belle Vernon Area's Bailey Parshall (22) pitches against South Fayette on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, during the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals at California University.
Jim Ference | Trib Total Media
Belle Vernon Area's Bailey Parshall (22) pitches against South Fayette on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, during the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals at California University.

Class AAAA

Preseason top five

Team (2015 record)

1. Hempfield (20-3)

2. Shaler (16-6)

3. North Allegheny (22-3)

4. Seneca Valley (15-4)

5. Baldwin (14-5)

Section favorites

1. Hempfield: The Spartans won 20 games last season en route to a 20-3 record, a WPIAL title and a PIAA semifinals appearance and return seven starters, including pitcher Morgan Ryan, a Notre Dame recruit who went 19-2 last year with a 0.98 ERA. Also returning is senior outfielder and Liberty recruit Taylor Hoffman, who hit .560. Penn-Trafford outfielder Morgan Little, a two-time all-section selection, returns for the Warriors.

2. Plum: After tying with Gateway for a second-place finish in 2015, Plum returns eight starters, including senior outfielder Hannah Adamski, who was second on the team with six home runs and 17 RBIs. Defending section champion Fox Chapel (11-6, 10-2) brings back all-section outfielder Alyssa Guzzie, while Madison Lewis (10-5, 93 strikeouts) and battery-mate Ufuoma Ogagan, a Buffalo commit, return for Gateway.

3. Shaler: The Titans return nearly their entire roster from a team that took third in the WPIAL last year to reach the PIAA tournament in a top-heavy Section 3, including all-section infielder Lauren Miller and first baseman Amanda Sartori, a Marist commit. Returning WPIAL runner-up North Allegheny gets pitcher Madi Beining (21-2, 1.15 ERA) for one more year, while Seneca Valley (15-4, 11-3) returns five starters.

4. Baldwin: The Highlanders bring back four all-section players, including pitcher Jaimie Schleicher, who went 10-3 with 93 strikeouts last year and helped Baldwin to a WPIAL semifinal appearance. Canon-McMillan lost to North Allegheny in the quarterfinals and loses a .600 hitter in Abby McCartney, but brings back .577 hitter and senior infielder Linda Rush, a Drexel recruit.

Players to watch

Madi Beining

Sr., P, North Allegheny

• As a junior, Beining went 21-2 with a 1.15 ERA and 166 strikeouts for the WPIAL runner-up Tigers.

Brianna Dobson

Sr., DP, Shaler

• Dobson hit .460 with 18 RBIs for Shaler last year.

Taylor Hoffman

Sr., OF, Hempfield

• Hit .570 with 15 RBIs for WPIAL champion Hempfield. Through three seasons, she is hitting over .550.

Linda Rush

Sr., INF, Canon-McMillan

• She hit .577 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs as a junior, all while striking out twice.

Morgan Ryan

Jr., P, Hempfield

• Ryan went 19-2 with a 0.98 ERA as a sophomore.

Class AAA

Preseason top five

Team (2015 record)

1. Belle Vernon (21-3)

2. Trinity (20-6)

3. Yough (17-5)

4. Southmoreland (13-5)

5. Beaver (10-3)

Section favorites

1. Beaver: The Bobcats didn't advance beyond the first round of the playoffs in their first year in Class AAA, but return eight starters from a team that won the section title last year. Those returners include .588 hitter Tayven Rousseau and pitcher Casey Farkasovsky, who logged 35 wins and 340 strikeouts in her first three seasons. Outfielder Leigha Knox, catcher Caitlyn Suter and infielder Leah Treemarchi were all-section players for Central Valley last year. All three will be back.

2. West Allegheny: Last year's Section 2 champion, which lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals, returns two all-section players in junior catcher Brooke Wilson and sophomore infielder Mackenzie Partyka. South Fayette, which tied Chartiers Valley with the second-best record in the section last year, brings back junior catcher Sara Jubas and senior outfielder Mikayla Fetchet.

3. Belle Vernon: The defending WPIAL champion graduated two all-section players in outfielder Emily Frederick and catcher Nicole Ashcraft, but bring back Penn State recruit Bailey Parshall, who put together one of the WPIAL's best freshman seasons last year by accounting for all 21 of Belle Vernon's wins in the circle and leading the team with a .418 batting average. Pitcher Paige Gallentine (13-4) and first baseman Delaney Elling (.580) return to lead a Trinity squad that reached the PIAA final last year.

4. Yough: The WPIAL runner-up Cougars lost just one starter from last year's 17-4 team and counts junior and .464 hitter Allie Harvey and two-year starting pitcher Macy Mularski among its key returnees. Southmoreland, a WPIAL semifinalist last year, returns three of four all-section selections, including senior outfielder Briana Bunner, an RMU recruit who hit .500 with 26 RBIs last year.

5. Hampton: Both Highlands and Hampton finished 8-2 atop Section 5 last year, and the Talbots are back with seven starters from last year's team, including all-section catcher Ashley Sheetz, outfielder Kat Bittner and pitcher Chloe Nelligan (6-3 last year). Highlands outfielder Nikki Meaner is back for her senior year, and two all-section players — infielder Suzanne Papik and sophomore outfielder Maggie Olshenskie — return to lead Mars.

Players to watch

Briana Bunner

Sr., OF, Southmoreland

• She hit .500 and drove in 26 runs to lead Southmoreland to the WPIAL semifinals last year.

Delaney Elling

Sr., 1B, Trinity

• Elling hit .580 with four home runs last season, her third straight season hitting .530 or better.

Casey Farkasovsky

Sr., P, Beaver

• In three seasons as Beaver's starting pitcher, she is 35-13 with 340 strikeouts.

Macy Mularski

Sr., P, Yough

• As a junior, Mularski compiled a 17-4 record, struck out 212 hitters and hit .300.

Bailey Parshall

So., P, Belle Vernon

• Parshall went 21-2 with a 1.47 ERA and also hit .418 as a freshman.

Class AA

Preseason top five

Team (2015 record)

1. Deer Lakes (24-2)

2. Mohawk (16-2)

3. Seton-La Salle (16-2)

4. Carmichaels (14-4)

5. Steel Valley (9-8)

Section favorites

1. South Side Beaver: The Rams lost all-section outfielder Cheyenne Seik to graduation, but return two other all-section players in junior infielder Hunter Hand and junior pitcher McKenna Smith (10-2, 96 strikeouts last year). Also back is senior Connor McGaffic, a Pitt recruit who sat out last year with a knee injury after hitting .583 with 49 RBIs as a sophomore. Burgettstown, which along with South Side Beaver finished with a 9-1 section record, will be led by two seniors, catcher Shania Winters and outfielder Cassie Carnes.

2. Carmichaels: A 14-4 team lost pitcher Erica Burns, who finished the regular season with 13 wins and 147 strikeouts, as well as catcher Katie Mays, but brings back two-thirds of its starting lineup, including shortstop Natalie McNett, who hit. 397. McGuffey (14-3, 12-2) returns seven starters and should be in the running for the section title behind the arm of pitcher Moriah McGuier, who logged 150 strikeouts and finished with a 1.24 ERA.

3. Deer Lakes: The Lancers are without graduated shortstop Katie Gozzard and pitcher Tiffany Edwards, who lost just one game in the regular season last year, but the WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up brings back one of the WPIAL's best outfields in Rachel Tanilli, Maureen Hutchinson and Maria Taliani. Freeport (10-5, 10-4) returns seven starters.

4. Seton-La Salle: The Rebels won their first 15 games last season before falling in the WPIAL semifinals to Mohawk. They lost WPIAL strikeouts leader Lauren Zola, who now pitches for IUP, but return seven starters from last year's 16-win team, including sophomore Pitt commit Lexi Wagner. Seton-La Salle has either won or shared a section crown (Section 1 before last year) each of the last five years.

5. Mohawk: The Warriors' first defeat of the 2015 season came in the WPIAL title game, an eight-run loss to Deer Lakes. Their second loss came in a PIAA first-round game against Cambridge Springs. Still, Mohawk graduated just one of its all-section players from last season, infielder Haley Sainato. Junior pitcher Tristan Voss, senior outfielder Leah Woytek and sophomore catcher Maddie Shiderly all return to lead the Warriors.

Players to watch

Connor McGaffic

Sr., OF, South Side Beaver

• Back from a knee injury, the Pitt recruit hit .583 with 49 RBIs as a sophomore.

Moriah McGuier

Sr., P, McGuffey

• She struck out 150 hitters and posted a 1.24 ERA last year; also accounted for all 14 of McGuffey's regular-season wins.

Maria Taliani

Sr., OF, Deer Lakes

• Taliani hit nine home runs, including four in the playoffs, for the WPIAL champion Lancers.

Tristan Voss

Jr., P, Mohawk

• Went a perfect 13-0 with 62 strikeouts during the regular-season last year.

Lexi Wagner

So., OF, Seton-La Salle

• The Pitt recruit was the leading hitter on Seton-La Salle's 16-2 team last year.

Class A

Preseason top five

Team (2015 record)

1. Chartiers-Houston (20-4)

2. Jefferson-Morgan (16-3)

3. Frazier (14-3)

4. Serra Catholic (12-4)

5. Bishop Canevin (9-7)

Section favorites

1. Chartiers-Houston: Coach Tricia Alderson has churned out 229 wins and 12 straight playoff teams in 12 years at Chartiers-Houston, and even with the loss of six starters, there's no reason to think 2016 will be different for last year's WPIAL runner-up. Seven of 11 players for the Bucs are freshmen or sophomores, but two all-section players, including junior DP Macie Kesneck and sophomore pitcher Kaitlyn Dittrich, return to lead the young team. Dittrich was second in the WPIAL with 17 regular-season wins last year. Defending WPIAL champion Jefferson-Morgan returns two all-section players, senior infielder Morgan Simkovic and senior outfielder Morgan Gamble.

2. Frazier: A WPIAL semifinalist last year, Frazier returns all-section catcher Kelsey Holp, infielder Alexus Eicher, outfielder Miranda Shepler, all seniors, and DP Kayla Matway, a sophomore. Monessen, which finished second in Section 2 last year to reach the playoffs for the first time in school history, will be led by senior Shelby Minardi, who posted a .526 batting average with 20 RBIs.

3. Leechburg: The Blue Devils went 10-0 in Section 3 last year before losing to Bishop Canevin in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, but return eight starters, including all-section pitcher Morgan Pierce, who went 11-1 with 99 strikeouts during the regular season, and sophomore infielder Emily Bush, also a 2015 all-section pick.

4. Shenango: A 14-4 regular season and a Section 4 title ended with a first-round loss to Serra Catholic in last year's WPIAL playoffs, but five of the Wildcats' six all-section selections return, including senior pitcher Macy Rubin, who went 10-3 with 88 strikeouts during the regular season. Seven starters are back from Western Beaver's 2015 playoff team.

5. Serra Catholic: The Eagles finished second in Section 5 last year, but return six starters, including pitcher Sam Andrekanic, who went 11-4 with a 2.19 ERA and hit .420 with 18 RBIs. Also back are Maria Lamonde, who hit .458 with 18 RBIs and senior shortstop Gia Husnick, who hit .435 with 13 stolen bases.

Players to watch

Sam Andrekanic

Sr., P, Serra Catholic

• Andrekanic went 11-4 with a 2.19 ERA and 108 strikeouts last year in addition to a producing a .420 batting average at the plate.

Kaitlyn Dittrich

So., P, Chartiers-Houston

• Logged 17 regular-season wins for WPIAL runner-up Chartiers Houston as a freshman.

Kelsey Holp

Sr., C, Frazier

• As a junior backstop last year, she was one of six all-section selections for WPIAL semifinalist Frazier.

Shelby Minardi

Sr., INF/P, Monessen

• As a junior, Minardi led the Greyhounds with a .526 batting average and 20 RBIs.

Morgan Pierce

So., P, Leechburg

• Pierce led Leechburg to the playoffs as a freshman with 11 regular-season wins and 99 regular-season strikeouts.

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