Previewing the WPIAL softball season
Preseason top five
Team 2013 record
2. North Allegheny18-6
1. Hempfield: Despite losing a four-year starting pitcher (Hope Pehrson) and the entire starting infield, Hempfield again will field a talented lineup. OF Kasey Kolick hit .385 with 24 RBIs last year, and Alaina Montgomery and Michaela LeDonne were named all-section as Hempfield reached the PIAA playoffs. Freshman Morgan Ryan will step into the pitching circle. Former Latrobe standout pitcher Alexa Bryson is the new coach at her alma mater and she returns seven starters, including all-state first baseman/pitcher Shelby Noel (.460, 27 RBIs), for the defending section champion Wildcats. Penn-Trafford will be led by first-year coach Monica Cox, who played and coached at Hempfield and last season led Mt. Pleasant to the playoffs. The Warriors also return Jess Zavolta, who hit .477. Connellsville returns nine starters from a 6-6 team.
2. McKeesport: The Tigers went 12-0 to claim the Section 2 title last year as pitcher Jess Beitler (16 wins, 123 strikeouts) earned all-state honors. The senior returns to the circle this year and will be aided by the offense of sophomore shortstop Vanessa Falce and senior catcher Courtney Patterson, who were all-section players a year ago. Plum returns eight starters, including all-state shortstop Jordan Seneca (.564), a St. Francis recruit, and all-state infielder Melissa LeClair (.426). Woodland Hills returns senior all-section shortstop Kelsey Geyer, who hit .489 last year. Penn Hills, which finished 2-10 last season, features a freshmen trio of talent: Lydia DeFazio, Riplee Burkhart and Kiana Drahusz. Andy Popojas is the new coach at Gateway, which returns sophomore pitcher Madison Lewis, who missed most of last season with a hand injury.
3. North Allegheny: Led by senior all-section pitcher Sami Beining (11 wins, 76 strikeouts) and infielder Christine Scherer, North Allegheny will look to defend its Section 3 title and make another trip to the WPIAL final and PIAA playoffs. All-state catcher Bonnie Pierson will be missed. Seneca Valley returns its entire starting lineup, including all-section infielder Alexa Sisko (.414) and outfielder Jess Neill (.538). Shaler returns seven starters, including pitcher Brianna Dobson (12 wins, 64 strikeouts), who had an impressive all-section freshman season.
4. Canon-McMillan: Plenty of talent returns for the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Big Macs. Junior Abby McCartney (.515, 5 HR) and senior Olivia Lorusso (.390, 7 HR) both are Robert Morris recruits and were named all-state last year. Sophomore Linda Rush was an all-section infielder. Senior catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko, a Pitt recruit, also returns after missing most of last season with an injury. She did hit .545 in the playoffs. Peters Township has six starters back, including pitcher Kellyn Perich, an all-section player last year, who is part of a standout junior class. Five starters are back for Upper St. Clair, including two-time all-section selection Karsen Rooney. Baldwin returns eight starters from an 8-6 team, including all-section sophomore outfielder Mallory O’Brien and standout catcher Kayla Eberst, who hit .417 with 18 RBIs. Chartiers Valley returns eight starters, including catcher/shortstop Libby Chidlow (.392).
Players to watch
Sr., 3B, Canon-McMillan
An all-state selection and RMU recruit, she hit .390 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs last year.
Sr., C, Franklin Regional
University of Maryland, Baltimore County recruit hit .460 and was all-section.
Jr., OF, Canon-McMillan
An RMU recruit, she hit .515 with five home runs, eight doubles, six triples and 31 RBIs in an all-state campaign.
Sr., P/1B, Latrobe
The senior hit .460 with 27 RBIs, four home runs and seven doubles and was picked second team all-state.
Sr., C, Canon-McMillan
Pitt recruit hit .545 with three doubles and seven RBIs in the postseason for the state champions.
Preseason top five
1. Greensburg Salem22-3
3. West Mifflin17-6
1. Ambridge: Junior pitcher Kelly Haslett returns to lead Ambridge after posting 12 wins and 64 strikeouts in an all-section campaign. The Bridgers were WPIAL runners-up and reached the state semifinals. Blackhawk returns nine starters and should challenge for the section title. Basketball player Bridgette Shaffer and Courtney Vannoy will play key roles, and catcher Megan Davis and infielder Heather Barrett were all-section selections last year. Central Valley will start four freshmen but all-section pitcher Jessica Koshinski returns after striking out 82 last year. Ellwood City returns six starters, including all-section shortstop Susie Blyth.
2. Montour: Senior catcher Malory Gerst (.411) returns to lead Montour, which has to replace all-section graduates Stacey Capp and Alyssa McMurtrie. Reigning section champion Trinity returns several big hitters, including Madison Hornak (.564), Pitt recruit Olivia Gray (.554) and all-section catcher Delaney Elling (.533). West Allegheny has seven starters back, including all-section third-baseman Emily Garvin.
3. West Mifflin: After falling one win shy of a PIAA tournament berth, the Titans return six starters, including pitcher Paige Flore, who was 12-5 last year with 90 strikeouts. Crystal Cook, Shannon Davis, Lauren Ackerman and Chelsea Hess all hit over .300. Southmoreland again will be led by pitcher Anna Marie Gatti, a Syracuse recruit who struck out 66 batters last year. Elizabeth Forward has five starters back, including Jen Keefer and Caitlyn Arico, who were all-section last year. Sophomore infielder Rachael Bowers was an all-section selection for 2-10 Thomas Jefferson. Yough will miss all-section infielder Karlie Tomich, who is out with an ankle injury.
4. Greensburg Salem: Defending WPIAL champion Greensburg Salem again boasts a wealth of talent, including Marist recruit Claire Oberdorf (.463), a junior shortstop, as well as senior Karly Mellinger (.513), who was an all-section outfielder last season. They will miss the battery of graduates Jayne Oberdorf (591 career strikeouts) and catcher Taylor Mehan. Mt. Pleasant and first-year coach Lauren Shaheen returns four starters, including senior infielder Paige Hertzog.
5. Mars: Defending section champion Mars welcomes back all-section infielder Erin Hershman but has to replace senior pitcher Taylor Rotz. Hampton has six returning starters, including senior infielder Breanna Lent (.410), an all-section player last year.
Players to watch
Sr., P, West Mifflin
All-section honoree went 12-5 last season with 90 strikeouts for the Titans.
Anna Marie Gatti
Sr., P, Southmoreland
Syracuse recruit had five wins and 66 strikeouts and was part of a successful rotation for the Scotties.
Jr., SS, Trinity
Pitt recruit hit .554 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 23 RBIs as a sophomore. She hit six home runs as a freshman.
Sr., OF, Greensburg Salem
Talented all-around athlete hit .513 with 16 RBIs and 41 hits for WPIAL and PIAA champions.
Jr., SS, Greensburg Salem
Marist recruit hit .463 with eight home runs, 23 RBIs and nine doubles last season.
Preseason top five
Team 2013 record
1. Deer Lakes19-2
4. Seton-La Salle12-2
1. Seton-La Salle: The three-time defending section champion Rebels are 40-6 in the past three seasons and again have a talented roster that can contend. The group includes senior Taylor Mercurio (.560) and junior pitcher Lauren Zola, who hit .413 and went 12-2 with 150 strikeouts. Keystone Oaks returns all-section centerfielder Eryn Caragein (.447), a Shippensburg recruit, and shortstop Meghan Staab (.390), as well as talented freshman pitcher Lauren McMillan. OLSH returns seven letter winners, but three freshmen will crack the starting lineup. Senior pitcher Emily Duerr (.585) and junior shortstop Taylor DiPerna (.523) were all-section last season. All-section junior pitcher Jordan Melko is back for Carlynton.
2. Chartiers-Houston: This will be a different team than the one that went 12-0 in the section and qualified for the PIAA tournament last year. Gone is star pitcher and leading hitter Kayla Briggs, but back are five starters, including all-section players Haley Sutton (.377), Megan Kraushaar (.456) and Kassie Kesneck (.311), who will handle the pitching. They will miss pitcher Toni Spossey, who moved to North Carolina. Pitcher Cassie Weiss is back for McGuffey, as is junior catcher Sammie Weiss, an all-section performer last year. Bentworth returns seven starters, including sophomore Aubree Yates (.418), who was all-section last season.
3. Deer Lakes: The 2012 WPIAL champion Lancers are 51-9 the past three seasons and again should contend for a title game berth. They return junior pitcher Tiffany Edwards (19-2, 133 strikeouts) and senior first baseman Sierra Sarver (.421), who both were all-section last year. Burrell returns catcher Jaila Manga and will turn to junior Krista York to pitch. Freeport hit 22 home runs last season and will continue to swing for the fences with the return of junior Karlie Hill (.426, 6 HR, 23 RBIs) and senior Alexis Roenigk (20 runs, 4 HR). But pitching will be a question mark with the loss of Alyssa Meta.
4. Greensburg Central Catholic: A trio of junior all-section players: catcher Carolyn Appleby (.410), outfielder Sierra Mathos (.354) and pitcher Nikki Adisey (9 wins, 69 strikeouts) return for the Centurions, who went 9-1 and won the section last year before falling to Beaver in the quarterfinals. Senior infielder Alexis Gaughen returns for Brentwood after an all-section campaign. Steel Valley returns sophomore pitcher Madie Cotter (12 wins, 132 strikeouts), who was an all-section selection.
5. Riverside: As a WPIAL and PIAA runner-up last year, perennial power Riverside again made its presence known in the postseason but the Panthers have some big shoes to fill in the pitching circle, as Kristen Wilson (22-1, 0.28 ERA, 271 strikeouts) graduated. Senior Brooke Barker will step in and get most of the innings. Riverside also returns all-section first baseman Natalie Pritts (.447). Beaver, led by all-section sophomore Casey Farkasovsky (.611), will challenge for the section title. Senior Bella Valent and sophomore Jen Kondracki also were all-section selections for the Bobcats.
Players to watch
Jr., P, Deer Lakes
She went 19-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 133 strikeouts and also hit .400 with 21 RBIs.
Jr., SS, Chartiers-Houston
The Bucs infielder hit .456 with three home runs and scored 14 runs.
Sr., 1B, Riverside
All-section last year, Pritts hit .447 with 15 RBIs for the WPIAL champion Panthers.
Sr., 2B, Chartiers-Houston
A three-year letter winner and all-section selection, she hit .377 last year with three home runs and 25 RBIs.
Jr., P, Seton-La Salle
She had 12 wins and 150 strikeouts last season for the section champion Rebels.
Preseason top five
4. South Side Beaver14-5
1. Burgettstown: Defending section champion Burgettstown returns six starters after qualifying for the PIAA tournament last year. The group includes all-section sophomore DP Morgan Elleck (413), all-section junior catcher Caley Ritts (411) and all-section senior pitcher Bry Lonick (12-3). Bishop Canevin returns four starters, which includes sophomore infielder Lexi Pilch, who hit .473 in an all-section campaign. Senior all-section first baseman Mackenzie Pryor and junior all-section outfielder Katie Maloney are among eight starters back for Sewickley Academy. Perennial contender Sto-Rox dissolved its program.
2. Carmichaels:Led by junior pitcher Erica Burns, who went 22-4 with 202 strikeouts last season, seven-time defending section champ Carmichales is the Section 2 frontrunner and a contender for a WPIAL title. Burns (.449) and junior infielder Caroline Cree (.443) lead the offensive attack. Frazier shared the section title last year and returns junior all-section outfielder Monica Joseph, but must replace grads Alexis Livingstone and Andrea Lash. West Greene is led by sophomore pitcher Bailey Bennington (.607). Serra Catholic returns seven starters, led by all-section senior DP Amy McNeill (.415) and junior infielder Allie Taylor (.349). The Eagles also will benefit from transfers Witney Larko from Penn Hills and Lauren Sturnick from Greensburg Central Catholic.
3. Leechburg: Rising junior shortstop Miranda Reesman is one to watch for reigning section co-champ Leechburg, which will be playing for a 28th straight WPIAL playoff appearance. The Blue Devils will need to replace graduate Kenzie Young , who struck out 136 batters and had a 1.67 ERA, but also sported a .500 average. First-year coach Zac Karas inherits six returning starters for defending section champion Jeannette. The group includes junior first baseman Monica Carl, who was all-section, and senior pitcher Nicole Hall. Eight starters return for Riverview, including junior Hannah Larkin, who holds the school’s single-season batting average record (.652).
4. Neshannock: Three all-state players return for the defending WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up Lancers. The group includes junior infielder Marissa DeMatteo, senior infielder Allie Fischer and junior pitcher Madison Shaffer. Class AA WPIAL champion Riverside was the only WPIAL team to beat Neshannock last season. South Side Beaver will be led by sophomore slugger Connor McGaffic (.603, 14 HR, 54 RBIs). Shenango returns all-state senior infielder Kim Burdett (.531). A large sophomore class provides promise for Aliquippa, which was winless last year.
Players to watch
So., P, West Greene
In addition to hitting .607 with seven doubles and three home runs, Bennington also won nine games and had 183 strikeouts.
Sr., INF, Shenango
An all-state first-team selection last year, she hit .531 with 43 RBIs, four home runs and 12 doubles.
Jr., P, Carmichaels
Burns went 22-4 with 202 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA, while also hitting .449 last season.
So., INF, South Side Beaver
In her first high school season, the Pitt recruit hit .603 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs.
Jr., P, Neshannock
The first-team all-state selection went 21-3 with 199 strikeouts and a 0.49 ERA. She also hit .470 with 32 RBIs.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review fashion writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, email@example.com or via Twitter .