3-time defending PIAA softball champion Hempfield has holes to fill
Tuesday, March 12, 2019 | 7:39 PM
Don’t pencil in the Hempfield softball team as the favorite to win WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A titles just yet.
The Spartans have some holes to fill after finishing 24-3 and winning WPIAL and PIAA titles again in 2018. Veteran coach Bob Kalp has had some restless nights trying to figure out a lot of question marks he has about the team, such as a new lineup and new section.
Kalp has been coaching at Hempfield for 29 years, the last 23 as head coach where he’s compiled a 401-97-1 record.
Hempfield has won four consecutive WPIAL titles and three straight PIAA championships. Hempfield is the only school in the largest classification to win back-to-back titles in the state tournament.
“Last year is history,” Kalp said. “No one thought we’d win it last year. The 16 players we have returning know the hard work it takes to win a title and know it’s possible to do.
“We don’t set goals of winning the section or titles. Our only goal is work hard every day, and if we do that we’ll accept the outcome. It’s worked pretty well so far.”
The Spartans are looking to replace corner outfielders, a first baseman, a pitcher and a designated player.
Five starters return — sophomore catcher Emma Hoffner, junior designated hitter Ashley Orischak, senior center fielder Laura Fox, junior shortstop Olivia Person and senior second baseman Jessica Person, who split time with graduate Samantha Kline.
One of the biggest losses is pitcher Maddie Uschock, now the starting pitcher at Dominican College. She did a good job stepping in after Morgan Ryan manned the circle the four previous seasons before heading to Notre Dame.
Hempfield also had different players step up at the plate in the playoffs. There was Margaret Monzo’s home run to defeat Baldwin, Orischak’s home run to beat Nazareth and Hoffner’s game-winning double to beat Parkland in the state finals.
“We have to have production from Emma, Ashley and Laura. They are our big guns and all are capable of leading the way again,” Kalp said. “We need other players to step in and do what Monzo did.”
Kalp is excited about the two pitching prospects — junior Kylie Saus and sophomore Callie Sowers. He said both are working hard to earn the starting job.
“It’s healthy competition,” Kalp said. “I see that in practice. Both are working hard. We have healthy competition at all positions.”
Kalp and his coaching staff are moving players around to see where they fit the best. He’s looking for the right mix and also looking to develop depth.
“Defensively, I’m not that concerned,” Kalp said. “We have to be able to score runs. We’re not going to shut out everyone, so we need players to step up and be productive offensively.”
Once Kalp finds a spot for Orischak, he’ll know better who will start in other positions.
“I have five kids battling in the outfield,” Kalp said. “The player that hits will probably earn the start. If someone struggles, another player will get a chance. Nothing is settled.”
And while Kalp tries to find those missing pieces, he’s also looking forward to some new battles on the field.
The WPIAL realigned the sections in Class 6A and reduced the sections from three to two.
Hempfield and Norwin will have long bus rides north of the Allegheny River to North Hills, North Allegheny, Fox Chapel, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Butler this season.
“It’s going to be fun,” Kalp said. “I doubt anyone will go undefeated in the section. The section is going to be a meat-grinder; all the teams are good.”
Hempfield is scheduled to open the season March 25 against Connellsville, a Class 5A semifinalist in 2018.
Kalp hopes by then the questions about the team will be answered.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .