2022 WPIAL Class 5A softball preseason breakdown

Sunday, March 20, 2022 | 10:35 PM

Last spring was a celebration as district athletes returned to the diamonds after the 2020 season was canceled because of the covid-19 shutdowns.

Softball was a success throughout as the WPIAL crowned four new champions while Laurel and West Greene remained on top in 2A and A.

District softball squads also did well in the state playoffs, as WPIAL teams captured two PIAA championships and three runner-up trophies.

Here is a rundown of the 2022 preseason top-five teams, players to watch and other notes in WPIAL Class 5A softball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Shaler (11-5 last season)

Shaler won nine of 10 games at one point last spring to take control of Section 3-5A. The Titans won the section title by one game over North Hills thanks to a wild 9-8 late-season victory over the Indians. Stunningly, that was Shaler’s last win of the season as the No. 4 seed Titans were eliminated in the first round by Connellsville, 6-5. The Titans were young and return 16 players, all of their starters and five first-team all-stars in seniors Cate Gordan, Cam Murphy and Corey Sigmund, along with junior Eloise Facher and Bethany Rodman.

2. Armstrong (18-6)

The magic number for Armstrong last season was two. The River Hawks finished second in Section 1-5A, one game behind Plum. Armstrong ended up second in the district playoffs when it lost to North Hills in the 5A finals, then brought home silver from the state softball finals after losing to Lampeter-Strasburg at Penn State. The River Hawks have more than a couple of players back with 2021 first-team all-stars Isabella Atherton, Mackenzie Egley, Emma Paul and Jenna Clontz returning.

3. North Hills (18-6)

It’s all about timing. For North Hills in 2021, it started the season by winning its first four games and 10 of its first 12. However the Indians finished 2-3 down the stretch to bring little momentum into the postseason. The Indians found their good karma in the playoffs and outscored their four WPIAL playoff opponents, 26-5, to win gold for the first time in more than 20 years. Senior pitcher Sophia Roncone leads a group of returning players looking to go back-to-back.

4. Penn-Trafford (15-5)

Penn-Trafford overcame a 1-3 start to live up to its high expectations in 2021. The Warriors won the tough Section 2 title and earned the No. 1 seed in the 5A playoffs. But after crushing Hampton in the opening round, P-T was knocked off by eventual champion North Hills in the district quarterfinals. Expect another strong season despite losing four first-team all-stars to graduation. One of the key players coming back is senior pitcher Mia Smith.

5. Chartiers Valley (14-9)

After winning only five games in the 2019 season, 2021 was a turnaround campaign for Chartiers Valley. The Colts won 14 games, finished as co-champions in Section 4-5A with perennial power West Allegheny, reached the WPIAL semifinals before losing to eventual champion North Hills and qualified for the state playoffs, where they lost to Bellefonte. This year’s team has three first-team all-stars back in senior Marie Kinchington and juniors Madison Crump and Mackenzie Maga.

Players to watch

• Isabella Atherton, Jr., C, Armstrong

• Mackenzie Egley, Sr., INF, Armstrong

• Emma Paul, Soph., INF, Armstrong

• Jenna Clontz, Jr., OF, Armstrong

• Madison Nguyen, Jr., INF, Franklin Regional

• Makenzie Lang, Jr., IF, Plum

• Jazlynn Sanders, Soph., OF, Woodland Hills

• Olivia Zimmerman, Soph., P, Indiana

• Rylea Hlatky, Sr., INF, Albert Gallatin

• Jenna Tallman, Sr., INF, Latrobe

• Mia Smith, Sr., P, Penn-Trafford

• Bella Henzler, Sr., C, Hampton

• Cate Gordan, Sr., INF, Shaler

• Cam Murphy, Sr., OF, Shaler

• Eloise Facher, Jr., OF, Shaler

• Corey Sigmund, Sr., DP, Shaler

• Bethany Rodman, Jr., P, Shaler

• Maria Chutko, Sr., INF, North Hills

• Kassidy Wittig, Sr., OF North Hills

• Sophia Roncone, Sr., P, North Hills

• Alyssa Rager, Sr., C, Trinity

• Amber Morgan, Jr., OF, Trinity

• Madison Crump, Jr., INF, Chartiers Valley

• Mackenzie Maga, Jr., OF, Chartiers Valley

• Marie Kinchington, Sr., DP, Chartiers Valley

Class 5A notes

• The North Hills championship last year ended the three-year title run in 5A by West Allegheny. It was North Hills’ sixth district title, with four coming between 1976 and 1983. The Indians’ fifth softball championship before last year was in 2000.

• Further proof of the great balance in Class 5A: Four of the top eight seeds in last year’s WPIAL playoffs were upset in the first round: No. 2 Latrobe was stunned by Indiana; No. 3 Plum was upset by Fox Chapel; No. 4 Shaler was surprised by Connellsville; and No. 6 West Allegheny fell victim to Franklin Regional. No. 1 Penn-Trafford was then upended in the quarterfinals by North Hills.

• The two WPIAL teams with the longest winning streak and longest losing streak in Class 5A softball are both in Section 1. Gateway had a winless 2021 season at 0-13. The Gators bring a 14-game losing streak into the 2022 campaign. On the flip side, the longest winning streak belongs to Albert Gallatin. Despite not making the playoffs last season, the Colonials won their last four games.

• Speaking of Albert Gallatin, keep an eye on them in Section 2 thanks to the Metts sisters. Junior Alexis Metts was one of the leaders on offense as the Colonials designated player while sophomore Ashley Metts returns to the circle after missing part of last season with an ankle injury.

• Nobody knew how missing the 2020 season because of the covid-19 outbreak would affect programs heading into 2022. The two biggest improvements were Armstrong going from three to 18 wins and Chartiers Valley from five to 14 wins. The biggest dropoffs were Gateway from 10 to zero wins and Upper St. Clair from 13 to three wins.

• Forty-nine years ago, the WPIAL had its first softball postseason. Upper St. Clair was crowned champion in 1973. Some other big anniversaries for Class 5A schools include 40 years ago, Shaler won the 1992 3A title; 25 years ago, Connellsville took home gold in 3A in 1997; and Latrobe won a district title 15 years ago in 2007.

2022 alignment

Section 1: Armstrong, Franklin Regional, Indiana, Kiski Area, Penn Hills, Plum, Woodland Hills

Section 2: Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Gateway, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford, Thomas Jefferson

Section 3: Fox Chapel, Hampton, Mars, North Hills, Oakland Catholic, Shaler

Section 4: Chartiers Valley, Moon, South Fayette, Trinity, Upper St. Clair, West Allegheny, Western Beaver

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