Franklin Regional softball seeks return to WPIAL playoffs after 3-year absence
The Franklin Regional varsity softball team is in Florida this week for its annual spring training set of practices and games.
The work in the Sunshine State, head coach Jim Armstrong said, is a strong benefit to the mix of returning and new kids.
It's preparation for a 2016 season the Panthers hope will result in a return to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“The girls are looking forward to the season,” Armstrong said. “The returning players and freshmen are ready to step up. Getting back to the playoffs is a big goal. It's going to take contributions from everybody.”
Franklin Regional battled with Fox Chapel, Plum and Gateway last year for the three WPIAL playoff spots from Section 2.
The Panthers finished 8-4 in section but lost out in the standings to Plum and Gateway — both 9-3 — and section champ Fox Chapel.
Armstrong expects his Panthers, and the Mustangs, Gators and Foxes, to battle again for the section title and the playoff trips.
“The girls are really driven to add to the banner in the gym,” Armstrong said.
A group of seniors led by Taylor Nonnenburg, Savi Medlang and Angela Buccilli moved on from last year's team because of graduation.
Nonnenburg (Clarion), Buccilli (Coastal Carolina) and Medlang (Case Western) have taken their talents to the next level. All three were first-team all-section performers last year.
Senior Olivia Vincett also earned first-team honors last year as a designated hitter. Armstrong expects her to lead with her bat again and lead the way defensively at third base.
The Panthers are relatively young this season, as Vincett, Cara Markowitz (pitcher) and Hannah Strobel (outfield) are the only seniors.
Markowitz has been the go-to pitcher the past couple of years. Armstrong also sees sophomore Jocelyn Behr and freshman Angalee Beall getting opportunities in the pitcher's circle.
Armstrong also likened Behr to Pirates do-everything player Josh Harrison, as Behr is able to play anywhere on the field.
He said he also is counting on the abilities of returning players in juniors Julia Yurinko (shortstop), Brooke Zanotto (first base), Gina DeCesare (catcher) and Mia Miller (left field).
Also in the mix this season is junior Sam Hlozek (outfield), Bailey Vincett (outfield, backup catcher), sophomore Chrissy Kemerer (outfield) and freshman Mallory Halleck (second base).
“There's a lot of good competition and depth,” Armstrong said. “Everyone is really pushing for playing time.”
The program was dealt a blow in the offseason when assistant coach Dave Barnhart died suddenly the day before Thanksgiving.
He served as an FR varsity assistant with Armstrong for two seasons and was a coaching colleague of Armstrong for a longer period of time with other area softball teams.
“The kids loved him,” Armstrong said. “It was a big loss for everyone.”
Franklin Regional returns to local action next Tuesday with a home section game against Allderdice at 4 p.m.
“We scrimmaged McKeesport the other day and hit the ball really well,” Armstrong said. “We have to continue to build on the positives.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.