This Hempfield softball team taking different route to success

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Sunday, June 10, 2018 | 4:57 PM


This Hempfield softball team is in select company within its own program, and it hasn't needed a perfect record to get there.

The Spartans always have high expectations, but having been spoiled by the success of last year's 27-0 group, this team has had to take the long way around, if you will, to reach the PIAA semifinals for the fourth consecutive time.

Let longtime coach Bob Kalp explain.

“I told them on the way out on the bus,” Kalp said after Thursday's 2-1, eight-inning win over Baldwin in the Class 6A quarterfinals. “There have been seven teams in the history of Hempfield (softball) that have played in 25 games. Just the very fact that we are in (Thursday's) game puts us within the top seven teams in the history of the program as far as number of games in the year. The maximum you can play is 27. We're not going to outdo last year's team, but we certainly could play 27 games. It could be done, but there's work to be done.”

Hempfield can play 27 games, but it needs to end the year with 24 wins to celebrate a third consecutive state title.

And let's face it: 22-3 is still a pretty good record, one Hempfield will take into Monday's semifinal against Nazareth (22-4) at 4 p.m. at Norlo Park in Fayetteville.

The winner goes to the state final 4 p.m. Friday at Penn State.

The four-time defending WPIAL champs have saved their best for last in a few playoff games, being as patient as they are persistent in late innings.

The Spartans won in 10 innings against Latrobe in the WPIAL final and rallied late again Thursday with senior first baseman Megan Monzo blasting a solo homer for the winner in the top of the eighth.

Sophomore Ashley Orischak's perfect bunt led to the tying run in the seventh.

“There's still a lot of fight in this dog,” Kalp said.

What-about-us Hempfield could continue to elevate its place in the program with another trip to the finals.

This team is about the pieces falling into place, the blending of upper and underclassmen and simple execution of basics, from clean defense, to advancing baserunners, to maintaining poise.

“It doesn't surprise me,” Kalp said. “We have achieved probably more than maybe I would have expected. The first week of practice I said we could be pretty good. But a lot of things have to happen. A lot of kids have to accept roles, where they're playing part time. A lot of kids have to contribute doing what they can, which they have.”

Hempfield has seen longtime streaks fall this season, a 46-game overall winning streak, a 41-game section win streak among them. But this team continues to win when it counts most: in the playoffs.

The Spartans have 22 postseason victories in a row. And a revolving streak of three traits, senior pitcher and team leader Maddie Uschock said, make the Spartans believe another season is destined to reach its climax at Penn State.

“Our attitude, preparation and our relationship with each other,” Uschock said are keys. “Everyone has the I-want-to-win attitude. There's no one on the team, even nonstarters, who are OK with losing. Even when we are down, we get in a tight huddle, and we get each other excited and motivated.

“Our preparation, because we work so hard every day, we know that we should feel comfortable in tight situations because we have outworked the other team. And our relationship with each other because we treat each other like family. We don't fight with each other when things aren't going our way. We get closer. We have good chemistry, and I think that's what makes us better than most teams.”

The quiet-but-steady leadership of a five-senior group that waited its turn — Uschock, Samantha Kline, Allison Podkul, Monzo, and Kelsey Tobin — and players like junior Laura Fox, have provided a cushion for players like freshman catcher Emma Hoffner to splash onto the scene.

Kalp sees proof in his team's battery.

“Things have to happen,” Kalp said. “Hoffner turns out to be the Division I player she is. She has provided a lot for us. And Maddie, unquestionably, the best pitcher in WPIAL 6A. If I had my choice of picking any of the pitchers, I'm picking Maddie.”

Monzo was asked how much of Hempfield's success is skill vs. coaching. Kalp and some of his assistants have been together for more than two decades.

“It's both, and our bulldog pitcher, that keeps us solid,” Monzo said. “I couldn't ask for a better coaching staff. It's about who is best prepared to win a game, and we could not be more prepared because of the coaches we have. And a lot of it comes down to the fight in all of us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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