2023 WPIAL Class 5A softball preseason breakdown

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 | 8:01 AM

Armstrong has reached the WPIAL and PIAA softball title games two straight seasons, and could again challenge for both championships.

Several teams hope to compete with the River Hawks, including Bethel Park and Peters Township, which dropped down from Class 6A this season via PIAA realignment.

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

Preseason Top 5

1. Armstrong (23-5 last season)

The Armstrong softball team celebrated its first WPIAL championship last spring and has the makings of a team ready to defend its title. All-state honorees Jenna Clontz, Emma Paul, Emma Smerick and Jessie Pugh are back for the River Hawks, who also were PIAA runners-up. Clontz, a Gannon recruit, hit .395 with 28 RBIs, including walk-off homer in the finals. Pitcher Cameryn Sprankle and catcher Isabella Atherton also return after earning first-team all-section honors.

2. Penn-Trafford (20-4)

The WPIAL runner-up Warriors lost to Armstrong in the district finals and PIAA semifinals last season. They will miss graduate Mia Smith, a first-team all-state pitcher who was 20-4 with a 1.38 ERA and 203 strikeouts. Sophomore third baseman Cameron Ponko returns after earning second-team all-state laurels.

3. Trinity (16-3)

The Hillers won the Section 4 championship and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals. Back are four first-team all-section players — sophomore infielder Hanna Suhoski, senior outfielders Amber Morgan (Southern Illinois recruit) and Ryleigh Hoy and senior pitcher Taylor Dunn — as well as junior DH Finley Hohn.

4. North Hills (17-5)

North Hills tied Fox Chapel for the Section 3 title last season and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs. Senior third baseman Hanna Murphy was a first-team all-section selection, and senior second baseman Brenna Westwood was a second-team pick. Shortstop Alyvia Merz also returns. The Indians graduated 11 players, including three all-state honorees in Kassidy Wittig, Maria Chutko and Abby Scheller.

5. Bethel Park (9-9)

The Black Hawks graduated three all-state players in Abby Quickel, Ali Sniegocki and Sandra Soltes after reaching the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals. Pitcher Makenzie Wade returns after earning first-team all-state honors. Juniors Becky Gillenberger and Savana Knauff return after picking up all-section recognition.

Players to watch

Isabelle Atherton, sr., C, Armstrong

Sami Bewick, sr., INF, Peters Township

Ciara Camacho, so., INF, Franklin Regional

Jenna Clontz, sr., OF, Armstrong

Sydney DeGram, sr., OF, Latrobe

Taylor Dunn, sr., P, Trinity

Mackenzie Fevero, sr., INF, Kiski Area

Eloise Facher, sr., OF, Shaler

Toryn Fulton, so., OF, Franklin Regional

Ryleigh Hoy, sr., OF, Trinity

Mackenzie Keenan, jr., DH, Penn-Trafford

Amber Morgan, sr., OF, Trinity

Hanna Murphy, sr., DH, North Hills

Madison Nguyen, sr., DH, Franklin Regional

Emma Paul, jr., SS, Armstrong

Aubrey Police, so., INF, West Allegheny

Cameron Ponko, so., INF, Penn-Trafford

Ava Pries, sr., INF, Upper St. Clair

Jessie Pugh, jr., INF, Armstrong

Hannah Simpson, sr., P, Kiski Area

Emma Smerick, sr., OF, Armstrong

Cameryn Sprankle, sr., P, Armstrong

Olivia Stock, so., INF, Thomas Jefferson

Hanna Suhoski, so., INF, Trinity

Makenzie Wade, jr., P, Bethel Park

Kayla Williams, jr., P, Latrobe

Diamond notes

• There was lots of movement between sections in Class 5A to accommodate new teams.

In addition to Bethel Park and Peters Township dropping down from Class 6A, New Castle moved up to 5A. Indiana, Woodland Hills, Albert Gallatin, Chartiers Valley and Hampton dropped out of the class and down to 4A, leaving 24 teams across four sections.

Fox Chapel, North Hills, Oakland Catholic and Shaler will stay together, moving from Section 3 to 1 to join Penn Hills and Plum.

Armstrong, Kiski Area and Franklin Regional will move from Section 1 to 2. South Fayette, Moon, West Allegheny and Western Beaver will slide from Section 4 to 3. Connellsville and Thomas Jefferson will move from Section 2 to 4.

• Senior shortstop Sami Bewick, a Miami (Ohio) recruit, returns to lead Peters Township (7-10). She earned all-state honors after batting .500 last season.

• Shaler (16-4) returns just two starters but has a talented group of underclassmen, including three sophomores and four freshmen. Senior outfielder Eloise Facher (Kent State) and senior pitcher/first baseman Bethany Rodman (Muskingum) are college-bound players.

• Five starters are back for Plum (7-12), including infielder/pitcher Mackenzie Lang (.442, 6 HR, 14 RBIs), catcher Danielle Pici (.392, 4 HR, 18 RBIs) and outfielder Kendall James (.340). Lang is moving from the circle to first base.

• Sydney DeGram, a St. Bonaventure recruit and all-section pick, and pitcher Kayla Williams return to lead the way for Latrobe (10-5), which was third in Section 2 last year and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals.

2023 alignment

Section 1: Fox Chapel, North Hills, Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills, Plum, Shaler

Section 2: Armstrong, Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford

Section 3: Mars, Moon, New Castle, South Fayette, West Allegheny, Western Beaver

Section 4: Bethel Park, Connellsville, Peters Township, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, Upper St. Clair

Bill Hartlep is the TribLive sports editor. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, he joined the Trib in 2004, covering high school sports. He held various editing roles before assuming his current position in 2019. He can be reached at bhartlep@triblive.com.

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