By: Charles Curti
Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM
Bishop Canevin was the lone area team to make the WPIAL softball playoffs last season. This season, the Crusaders will try to make another run with a roster that looks very different.
A new attitude is the theme at Chartiers Valley. Carlynton, meanwhile, returns an experienced team for third-year coach Traci Melko.
A look at each of the teams:
The Crusaders went 7-5 in Section 3-A in 2018, taking the fourth and final playoff spot. They won their opening playoff game then lost in the quarterfinals.
Coach Karen Seitz-LaFianza must replace six seniors (five starters) in her lineup and will face competition in a new section (1-A).
“I fully expect to make the playoffs,” she said, “but it’s so many players in so many new positions. (I’m) going to have to be patient with some of them.”
Seitz-LaFianza is looking for a big year from Taylor Lokaitis, who she said has “flown under the radar,” as well as Brenna Nolf, who will be starting in left field for the fourth year.
Sophomore catcher Bre Bazeck returns to handle freshman starter Alysha Cutri. Cutri, Seitz-LaFianza said, has good velocity and good movement on her pitches.
Hannah Delisio and Meadow Lokaitis, who played primarily at DH last season, also provide experience and will be leaned on heavily until the Crusaders’ lineup is settled.
The Cougars missed the playoffs by one game last season, but Melko is optimistic about this spring.
“We’re all working toward the same goals,” she said. “In the last couple of years, it was more like some of the girls just wanted something to do, but now they’re playing because they want to win.”
The addition of first-year senior Maddie Baron, who will play shortstop and hit cleanup, will be a boost. Junior Jaelyn Melko returns for her third year in the circle.
Coach Melko said Jaelyn has added more pitches to her repertoire and is more confident in what she is doing. Jaelyn also led the team in hitting (.425).
Jenna Williams, Kayla Glumac and Carlee Smith likely will be in the outfield, though, Melko said, Glumac also can play infield. Sophomore catcher Madison Ciabattoni and junior first baseman Chloe Evans also return to solidify the lineup.
Carlynton is back in Section 1-2A, but the section includes new foes South Side Beaver, Burgettstown and Fort Cherry.
Year 2 of coach Lexi Schwartzmiller’s tenure didn’t go as planned. The Colts limped to a 2-13 record (2-10 Section 3-5A), but Schwartzmiller is expecting a turnaround this season.
Much of her optimism is tied to her players’ change in attitude.
“At our opening practice, I had a talk with the team, and they surprised me with what they said,” Schwartzmiller said. “The things they articulated were very impressive, and the big thing that came out of it was accountability.”
Senior Teresa Mackey returns as the Colts’ first baseman and No. 2 pitcher. She will slot in behind Jenna Boneysteele in the rotation.
Boneysteele took a line drive off her foot early last season during live batting practice and missed most of the games with a broken foot. Schwartzmiller said she already can see a difference in the sophomore’s velocity and movement.
The Colts have only 16 players, small for Class 5A, but Schwartzmiller said she feels better about the team than she did at this time last season.
“This team’s approach to practice is a lot different,” she said. “They aren’t afraid to try new things and get out of their comfort zone. Last year, they were playing it safe in a way. But to get somewhere … you have to play on the edge.”