Expectations high for Gateway softball
The Gateway softball team and its coach, Andy Popojas, are looking forward to getting the season started. The first few games were canceled because of inclement weather, but that has not dampened the team's spirits.
“The team as a whole has bonded very well,” Popojas said. “I like all their attitudes, I like the way they're conducting themselves. They all want to play the game, and that's most important to me. They all are focused right now.”
This is Popojas' second season as the Gators' coach. The team went 6-6 in section play last year and just missed the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, taking fourth behind co-champs Plum and McKeesport and third-place Woodland Hills (8-4).
Popojas said his expectations for this season are high. In addition to doing well in their section, he wants the team to advance to the playoffs. Changes in the Gators' section this season include McKeesport and Oakland Catholic dropping to Class AAA, and Franklin Regional and Fox Chapel joining Section 2.
“Now that I've got my feet wet with the girls, gotten to know them a little better and they know me a little better, I think expectations are definitely better than last year,” Popojas said. “We've got a good pitcher named Madison Lewis … probably a D-1 prospect for college.”
In addition to Lewis, Popojas said he will be relying heavily on junior catcher Ufuoma Ogagan and senior center fielder and team captain Cali DiLucente for leadership, on and off of the field. Other notable players to watch include junior Jasmine Copeland, sophomore Leah Vranka and freshman Danniele Taylor.
“We think we can definitely reach the playoffs this year, as long as Madison Lewis stays healthy,” Popojas said. “We should be able to obtain that goal and definitely rise above .500 this year. That definitely is my goal.”
Other goals Popojas has include building and establishing the program for future generations of girls in the community.
“I think it definitely starts in the community,” Popojas said. “The Gateway, Monroeville community, I think they need to look at a softball program at a younger age. We have a nice middle school program running. You can see the developmental stages there and then move forward at the high school level.”
Along with working to expand the program, Popojas wants to develop younger players so that once they reach the high school level they already have the fundamentals and skills they need to succeed.
“So, we are looking at freshman coming in,” Popojas said. “I'm not afraid to start a freshman if they have some talent, and that's what we would rather have. I'd rather have freshmen and sophomores and build them for a couple of years, especially pitchers. That's really important, to start at a younger level with the community ball and move forward.”
The Gateway softball team won its first section game Monday, 10-0, against Woodlands Hills in five innings. Lewis pitched a no-hitter, with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
Katie Foglia is a freelance writer.