2023 WPIAL Class 3A softball preseason breakdown

Thursday, March 16, 2023 | 8:01 AM

Avonworth’s softball team enters the 2023 season with a lot of targets on its proverbial back.

The Lopes won section, WPIAL and PIAA championships last season, rolling to an 8-1 win over Deer Lakes in the district final and beating Lewisburg, 7-2, for the state title.

They certainly will be challenged this season, notably against loaded Section 1 competition.

Here is a rundown of the 2023 preseason top 5 teams, some of the players to watch and other diamond notes in WPIAL Class 3A softball.

Preseason Top 5

1. Avonworth (21-5 last season)

The Antelopes won WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles with a young lineup last season and many of the stars are back and ready to shine. Sophomore outfielder Leah Kuban hit .459 with eight homers and 26 RBIs to earn first-team all-state honors. Also back is first-team all-state junior catcher Rylee Gray and first-team all-state junior pitcher Alivia Lantzy, who had an ERA under 2.00. All-state third baseman Meghan Fissore graduated.

2. Burrell (14-3)

The Bucs reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals and PIAA playoffs last season after winning the Section 1 title. They were led by all-state pitcher Katie Armstrong, who returns for her senior season after going 14-3 with a 0.18 ERA and 0.58 WHIP with 257 strikeouts. The Gannon recruit shut out District 10 champion Villa Maria Academy, 6-0, for Burrell’s first PIAA victory since 2011. Sophomore catcher Bella Stewart was an all-section selection, and sophomore infielder Piper Ferres also returns after batting .321.

3. Yough (13-4)

Yough, a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinalist last season, has eight starters back, including senior outfielder McKenzie Pritts (.475) and senior all-section shortstop Kaylin Ritenour. Sophomore Adoria Waldier (.386, 4 HR) has flashed power. Sydney Bergman is slated to replace graduated pitcher Emma Augustine.

4. Deer Lakes (14-6)

The Section 1 champion Lancers finished as WPIAL silver medalists last season and won a PIAA playoff game. Junior pitcher Maddie Kee returns after earning second-team all-state honors. She was 14-3 with a 1.88 ERA and 141 strikeouts and also hit .371 with 24 RBIs. Senior infielder Anna Bokulich also earned all-section honors. Deer Lakes will need to replace the production of all-state outfielder Reese Hasley.

5. Southmoreland (14-5)

The Scotties were Section 3 runners-up and went on to reach the PIAA playoffs last season. Senior Brynn Charnesky (Waynesburg commit) returns after earning all-state honors at second base. Pitcher Maddie Brown is also back, along with all-section shortstop Amarah McCutcheon (.339, 4 HR), all-section outfielder Riley Puckey and all-section catcher Makayla Etling. All-state third baseman Tyson Martin graduated.

Players to watch

Katie Armstrong, sr., P, Burrell

Anna Bokulich, sr., INF, Deer Lakes

Brynn Charnesky, sr., INF, Southmoreland

Abby DeJidas, jr., INF, Freeport

Izzy DePalma, sr., C, Derry

Sarah Dettling, sr., OF, Derry

Sophia Doherty, so., INF, Derry

Morgan Dunkel, sr., P, Valley

Makayla Etling, so., C, Southmoreland

Sydnee Foust, so., C, Ligonier Valley

Aliya Garroway, sr., C, Ellwood City

Rylee Gray, jr., C, Avonworth

Alivia Hare, so., OF, Mohawk

Maddie Kee, jr., P, Deer Lakes

Leah Kuban, jr., OF, Avonworth

Paige Kuisis, sr., OF, Seton LaSalle

Alivia Lantzy, jr., P, Avonworth

Cali Legzdin, jr., OF, Beaver Falls

Macy Littler, sr., OF, Central Valley

Amarah McCutcheon, jr., INF, Southmoreland

Kylie Mettrick, so., OF, South Park

Cheyenne Piper, jr., INF, Ligonier Valley

Riley Puckey, so., OF, Southmoreland

Kaylin Ritenour, jr., INF, Yough

Sydney Savatt, so., INF, Avonworth

Sydney Selker, jr., P, Freeport

Sophia Smithnosky, sr., P, Mt. Pleasant

Bella Stewart, so., C, Burrell

Leah Taliani, sr., INF, Valley

Ruby Wallace, sr., OF, Ligonier Valley

Aricka Young, jr., INF, Mohawk

Diamond notes

• Burrell, Freeport, Central Valley, Hopewell and Yough dropped to Class 3A. Also new to 3A are Mohawk, Ligonier Valley and Seton LaSalle, which moved up a class. Class 3A will have 24 teams, up from 18, and will have four sections instead of three.

The new Section 4 comprises Brownsville, McGuffey and Waynesburg Central from Section 3 and Section 2 transfers Keystone Oaks and South Park, along with Seton LaSalle.

Derry moved from Section 1 to 3, where it will match with Westmoreland County foes Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and Yough, as well as South Allegheny.

• Youngstown State recruit Macy Littler, a senior outfielder, returns to lead Central Valley (8-8), which finished third in Section 3-4A last season. Waynesburg commit Kaitlyn Sullivan also returns in the outfield and is among seven returning starters.

• Aliya Garroway, an all-section catcher and three-year starter, is among five returning starters for Ellwood City (11-4), which reached the quarterfinals last season under 18th-year coach Gary Rozanski.

• Freeport (10-7) reached the quarterfinals in Class 4A last season. Abby DeJidas was a second-team all-state shortstop. Junior pitcher Sydney Selker is a St. Francis (Pa.) recruit. All-state catcher Natalie King graduated.

• Senior pitcher Morgan Dunkel struck out 90 batters and also hit .413 with four homers and 27 RBIs for Valley (7-7), which reached the playoffs for the second straight season after a seven-year hiatus. Dunkel and senior infielder Leah Taliani earned all-section honors.

• Seton LaSalle (13-5) reached the WPIAL quarterfinals in Class 2A in 2022. Senior outfielder Paige Kuisis (.417) returns after earning all-section laurels. Also back are Hannah Alonso (.470) and several talented sophomores and freshmen.

South Allegheny (13-5) won Section 3 last season but returns just three starters — shortstop Ava Martorelli, catcher Morgan Mosqueda and centerfielder Lily Dranko.

McGuffey (4-8) returns nearly its entire starting lineup, including Julia Barr, who hit .500 last season, and pitcher Makenna Crothers.

• Ligonier Valley (14-4) won Section 2-2A last season but will miss graduated pitcher Maddie Griffin (Youngstown State). Junior Cheyenne Piper threw a perfect game last year when Griffin was injured.

Hopewell (4-10) has eight starters back, including sophomore outfielder/pitcher Kara Barkovich and juniors Chloe Nale and Mya Parish.

2023 alignment

Section 1: Avonworth, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport, Shady Side Academy, Valley

Section 2: Beaver Falls, Central Valley, Ellwood City, Hopewell, Mohawk, Quaker Valley

Section 3: Derry, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, South Allegheny, Southmoreland, Yough

Section 4: Brownsville, Keystone Oaks, McGuffey, Seton LaSalle, South Park, Waynesburg Central

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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