Latrobe's three-peat will be difficult
For the past four seasons, the Latrobe girls softball team has relied on the strong right arm of Alexa Bryson.
That strong arm helped Latrobe win consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA titles and two PIAA runner-up trophies.
Bryson is gone, now pitching for Robert Morris University.
Now, Latrobe softball coach Bob Kovalcin will be grooming two new pitchers: sophomores Rebecca Taylor and Alexa Larkin.
While both will be making their first starts as high school pitchers, both have faced pressure situations before. They learned their trade while pitching for the West Point Softball All-Star teams. Both have played in numerous state, regional and World Series games.
"They'll split time," Kovalcin said. "Because one is a righty and one is a lefty, we're probably going to alternate them. Sometimes, we'll use both.
"I've told them I don't need them to be the next Alexa Bryson. That's just not going to happen. I want them to develop and try to be as good as Alexa when she was a freshman and sophomore."
Taylor, a 5-foot-8 right-hander, and Larkin, a 5-9 left-hander, are much taller than Bryson, who stood 5-foot. Kovalcin said both could develop into power pitchers.
"Both have five pitches," Kovalcin said. "We want them to work to their strengths and develop their weaknesses. I want them to be as consistent as possible."
Taylor has drawn the starting assignment for the Wildcats' first three games because Larkin has been sick. Larkin is scheduled to pitch Thursday against Seneca Valley.
"I can't wait to get my opportunity," Larkin said. "I've been looking forward to my first start since last year. I knew Rebecca, and I will share time."
Taylor said they have big shoes to fill. But Coach Kovalcin has told them just to continue to work hard.
"We're during our best," Taylor said. "We're both hard on ourselves because we want to do well. We're probably our toughest critics."
During Tuesday's non-section game against Bethel Park, which Latrobe lost, 2-1, Taylor struck out eight and allowed 10 hits. She said it wasn't her best performance, but Kovalcin wasn't disappointed.
"Rebecca pitched Monday and did fine," Kovalcin said. "She wasn't as sharp (Tuesday), but you'll have that. She still only allowed two runs, and she's learning."
Taylor and Kovalcin talked between innings late in the game. The veteran coach gave his young pitcher encouragement.
"He told me not to be afraid to throw my weaker pitches," Taylor said. "I have to get confidence in them. I've played in high pressure situations before at West Point. That prepared me for this level."
Larkin said she enjoys pressure situations, and she's ready to take charge.
"I'm pretty hard on myself because I am the pitcher," Larkin said. "It starts with me, and I want to be the force on the team.
"Having both of us pitcher will take pressure off us. He just wants us to do our best."
Latrobe returns four starters from last year's squad. They are Larkin (right fielder), Taylor (designated hitter), senior second baseman Molly Kovalcin, the coach's daughter, and junior first baseman Meghan Kozusko.
Kovalcin and Kozusko will split time between second and shortstop. Kozusko started at shortstop her freshman season when starting shortstop Emily Fenton injured her knee.
"We have a tough non-section schedule," Kovalcin said. "It should prepare us for the season. We'll battle anyone we play."
A lot, however, will depend on the development of Taylor and Larkin.