By Lisa Byers
It may take a while before anyone can prove themselves due to a harsh winter season and a less-than-cooperative spring. But whenever things truly get going, it should be an exciting season in Region 3 softball this year.
Cambridge Springs, Cochranton, Maplewood, Saegertown and Union City all return a wealth of talent to the diamond in 2014, including a total of 11 all-region selections. The biggest questions just might be how Maplewood and Saegertown manage to fill the voids left on the mound and whether or not some of last year’s big bats can keep it going in 2014.
In the circle
Cambridge Springs, Cochranton and Union City bring experience back to the circle this year with Kayla Parkin pitching for the Spa, Natalie Brock with the Redbirds and Noelle Wienczkowski twirling for the Bears.
Parkin is already off to a pretty good start for the Blue Devils. She is 2-0 with a 1.75 earned run average in two starts.
Brock was one of the most efficient pitchers in the region the last two years. A year ago, Brock, now a senior, threw 102 innings and walked just 11. She finished with a 1.65 earned run average.
Wienczkowski had a 2.92 earned run average last season and is already off to a strong 2-0 start in 2014.
Saegertown will replace reigning Meadville Tribune Player of the Year and region Pitcher of the Year Arianna Hanley. Maplewood will replace Taylor Smith, who was a Region 3 first-team pitcher last year.
The Tigers did get some work from Madalyn Nicols last season, and she proved she is more than up to the challenge of taking on the starting role.
Nicols, in three appearances, was 2-0 with a 0.82 earned run average. Teams batted just .089 against her, and of the 56 batters she faced, she struck out 15.
But Nicols is expected to reassume her catching duties for the Tigers, giving way to sophomore Brianna Scott, who pitched just an inning last season.
“Our expectations for pitching are just as high as they were with Taylor,” Maplewood coach Hannah Borkovich said. “Bri has been working extremely hard. My confidence in her is as great or greater than any other pitcher I’ve worked with.
“She is not only the center of the defense, but she takes her role and responsibility very seriously and is willing to do whatever it takes to help her team.”
At Saegertown, Hanley was the go-to, making all but two starts for the Panthers in their run to the District 10 Class A championship. Hanley threw 122 innings and carried a 2.24 earned run average.
The Panthers have a number of pitching options to turn to this season, including senior Brooke Parker, juniors Lexi Palmer and Emma Osborne or sophomore Becca Siple. Osborne was a force to be reckoned with during her youth softball days in Saegertown before moving out of state. She is back and gives the Panthers a fresh arm.
Strong arms, big bats
Regardless of who the Region 3 teams throw in the circle, the bats in Region 3 will put them to the test.
The region is, again, loaded with offense. In fact, there are at least 13 players back who batted over .300 and combined for 16 home runs.
Among that group is Union City’s Wienczkowski, who returns with the region’s best batting average at .548. Palmer hit .435 with four homers for Saegertown a year ago. Cochranton’s Abby Clulow also topped .400 with a .439.
Palmer, who also knocked in 25 runs in 2013, is one of four Panthers back with .300 or better averages last season, joining Jaricka Simmerman (.338, 20 RBIs), Tori Eckart (.333) and Mackenzie Garris (.333).
Parkin hit .352 for the Blue Devils last season. Cambridge also returns McKayla Zilhaver, who was below .300 at .266, but hit three home runs.
Also back are, Union City’s Courtney Brumagin (.392) and Meghan Mongera (.388), Maplewood’s Nicols (.347) and Ruth Fultz (.345), and Cochranton’s Sam Kinter (.349) and Ariel Smith (.314).
Union City, with Wienczkowski back on the mound and its lineup, could be a real contender this season.
“I do have three big hitters back and I am expecting big years from them again,” said Union City second-year coach Frank Snyder. “I feel good about my offense 1 through 9 this year and I have some very good hitters coming off the bench competing for spots as well.”
The Bears also return Tori Migliaccio and Autumn Kinney, who were just below the .300 mark at .295 and .288, respectively. Wienczkowski, Brumagin, Kinney, Mongera and Migliaccio combined for 50 of the Bears’ 67 runs batted in and 20 of its 26 extra-base hits, including all three home runs.
MASH, CASH ready to take on Region 6
Last year was a year of firsts for both Crawford County members of the Region 6 softball league.
For Conneaut, it was the program’s first season ever following the consoladation of the Conneaut School District’s previous three high schools — Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Valley and Linesville. It was also the first head coaching job for Cambridge Springs graduate Stephanie Baer.
The Meadville team also had a first with its new head varsity coach Jim Moats.
Now, with a first-year foundation laid for both programs, they’re ready to get back into the race in a competitive Class AAA region.
Conneaut, which was 10-8 last season and 6-4 in Region 6, finished out the year strong and wound up being a contender for a District 10 Class AAA playoff berth. The goal this year is to start strong and continue to improve. The tools are in place.
The Eagles did graduate a bit of talent, but also return quite a bit, including pitcher Sahara Blair and the likes of shortstop Kristen Baker and first baseman Rebecca Hazen, both of whom batted over .300 a year ago.
Baker led the Eagles with a .439 average, 27 runs scored and 19 RBIs. Hazen hit .317. Blair also had a solid bat, carrying a .327 average with a team-best six doubles.
The Eagles are already off to a hot start offensively, slugging a dozen base hits in Wednesday’s 12-6 win over region foe Grove City. Outfielder Emily Baum was 4-for-4. Hazen also had a pair of hits.
For Meadville, Moats said the start of the season was a challenge as far as numbers are concerned. That situation appears to be resolved and the Bulldogs — looking to improve on last year’s 3-12 campaign — have an abundance of talent back to make a go at the Region 6 crown. They, too, have experience on the mound in Alexis Rhoades.
At the dish, the Bulldogs will rely on outfielder Megan Alexander and infielders Taylor Nottingham, Alex Smith and Jordan Boca-Wimer.
Nottingham has already gotten off to a strong start offensively, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to non-region opponent Rocky Grove. Smith, freshman catcher Ariana Hoffman, sophomore shortstop Kaycee Keas and junior outfielder Emilee Clayton have also logged base hits to start the season.