Seton-La Salle softball coming on strong
The Seton-La Salle softball program was on the brink of ending a lengthy postseason drought last year.
All the Rebels needed was a victory in one of their final two section games, and they would have qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
Two section losses later, however, the Rebels were in a third-place tie with Center and failed to qualify for the postseason when they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Coming so close to the playoffs and failing to get one more victory might have been the best thing to happen to the 2011 Seton-La Salle team. The Rebels are undefeated with less than a week to go in the regular season, ranked No. 1 in Class AA and clinched a playoff berth with their 1-0 victory Friday over Bishop Canevin.
"Coming up short last year was pretty good motivation because we were there, and it was a case of close but no cigar," Seton-La Salle coach Jay Krull said. "We have the bulk of the team back, and basically 12 young ladies know what that feeling was like, and they started in the fall to put in a lot of work to rectify that."
Seton-La Salle girls sports have been powerhouses in the fall and winter, with both the soccer and basketball teams locked in as perennial postseason participants and WPIAL championship contenders. But the school's softball team has struggled mightily to re-establish itself to the halcyon days when it won the WPIAL Class AA title in 1983. The Rebels will make their first playoff appearance since winning the four-team Section 5-A crown in 1999, the inaugural year of the split from two classifications to three.
One of the main reasons Seton-La Salle (11-0, 10-0) is the only undefeated team in Class AA is the number of quality starts by senior pitcher Chelsea Zola. Although she might not be the hardest-throwing hurler in the WPIAL, she doesn't make it easy on opposing batters.
Before Friday's games, Seton-La Salle was one of six teams — Hempfield, Yough, Ambridge, Sto-Rox and Chartiers-Houston were the others — that had not given up more than three runs in any one game this year.
"She's been outstanding to this point, and Chelsea's biggest asset is that she doesn't hit the white of the plate too often," Krull said. "She paints the black a lot. She's not a flamethrower, but she spins the ball very nicely and keeps the ball on the corners."
She also has gotten quite a bit of offensive support — Seton-La Salle scored at least 15 runs in three of its first 10 games.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Seton-La Salle handles being in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. What could be even more telling is what will happen if the Rebels remain undefeated and garner the top seed in their bracket.
"I think winning the section would be a big feather in our cap and, though I think losing a game could build some character and refocus you, there will be no effort in our remaining games to lose, that's for sure," Krull quipped. "As far as the playoffs go, I have to be honest in that none of these girls have playoff experience ... and I'm hoping that the season itself and playing in a competitive section will carry into the playoffs."