Gateway softball looks to maintain momentum after playoff appearance

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Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM


The Gateway softball team enjoyed a “turnaround season” of sorts in 2018.


The Gators finished with a winning record, going 8-7 overall and 8-6 in Section 1-5A, tying for third place with Kiski Area.


What can coach Scott Lewis do for an encore in his second year?


“There is a lot of momentum for the program,” said Lewis following the 2018 season. “Winning’s fun; the girls (were) excited to be in the playoffs. We want to take another step forward.”


Lewis said he is “a little more comfortable” in his second year in charge of the program.


“Preseason is tough,” he said. “There is so much to work on, and trying to get prepared.”


An assistant at Gateway for seven seasons prior to last year, Lewis welcomed seven returning starters to the team at the start of spring training, plus a number of other players looking to make an impact.


Mykaila Jackson (P/1B), Gionna DeLuca (2B) and Jordan Henderson (3B) are back for their senior season, and will serve as co-captains.


“My expectation for this season is simply to improve on all aspects of our game as a team,” Jackson said. “Last year, we had a taste of the playoffs, but to achieve a better outcome we have to improve at every practice and work as a team to finish better off than last season.”


Juniors Maura Ryan (P/SS) and Kayla Gratton (P/SS) return to the pitcher’s circle. Sydney Hunter, a junior center fielder, and Emma Kennedy, a sophomore catcher, round out the list of returning starters. Kennedy led the squad in hitting in 2018 in her first year of varsity competition.


Other players looking to make an impact include seniors Sam Beley (OF) and Ashley Skoog (OF); as well as juniors Angela Schroeder (OF), Gianna Vermeulen (IF/OF) and Kayla Valerino (IF).


Top freshman prospects in the program include Addison Comunale (OF), Leah DeHass (IF), Deanna Gratton (C/3B), Kathryn Ryan (IF/OF) and Nikkita Vojnik (IF/OF).


“One of our biggest strengths this year would be how many new players we have as incoming freshman,” Jackson said. “We are fortunate enough to have these players who have a lot of potential. Sadly, this is my last year, but they will all grow to help the team make a name for themselves in the upcoming years.”


Like most high school teams, the Gators have been focusing on fundamentals in preseason drills.


“We are working to improve our skills,” Lewis said. “Fielding was our strength last season. We have been working on situations, as well as hitting and pitching.”


Last year, Gateway won its last four regular-season games and dramatically clinched a WPIAL playoff berth on the final day of section play.


Gateway, Kiski Area, Plum and Greensburg Salem were 7-6 and fighting for the two playoff spots behind co-champions Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford.


Gateway and Kiski Area defeated Woodland Hills and Armstrong, respectively, while Plum and Greensburg Salem lost to FR and P-T, respectively.


The Gators fell to Trinity, 12-2, in the first round of the playoffs. Their previous postseason appearance was in 2015.


This year, Gateway is a member of Section 2-5A, along with Hampton, Mars, Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills, Plum, Shaler and Woodland Hills.


Mars (10-9), Hampton (9-9) and the Gators were the only playoff qualifiers last season. The five other clubs finished with losing records.


Lewis, a Plum graduate, is assisted by Heather Bache, Danielle Kuchka and Brooke Bache.

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