After another run to PIAA tournament, Southmoreland softball looks ahead to promising future

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Monday, June 26, 2023 | 10:18 AM


Among Todd Bunner’s nuances is a habit of hand-writing his team’s season statistics on a homemade chart, a practice that defies logic in an era of electronic saturation.

You could say Southmoreland’s old-school softball coach is set in his ways …

And it’s not such a bad thing?

After all, the Scotties have appeared in the past nine WPIAL playoffs in Bunner’s 10 seasons as coach, and this season, they reached the Class 3A final for a second time.

In 2018, Southmoreland won a 3A championship before losing to Philipsburg-Osceola in the PIAA semifinals. Since then for the Scotties, there’ve been two more appearances in the state playoffs.

Both resulted in early exits with first-round losses.

With a veteran team returning, 2024 could be a special year for Southmoreland.

“We’ve always had girls in line,” Bunner said.

Yet, the wait could get longer for some younger current prospects as Southmoreland loses just one regular, second baseman Brynn Charnesky, a Waynesburg commit and the lone senior, who played in 126 of a possible 127 innings while helping the team to a 17-4 record.

As a junior in 2022, she topped .400 in batting and was voted to the Pennsylvania High School Softball Coaches Association all-state team. Her average dipped in 2023 to .263, but she continued her savvy defensive play in the infield.

“Defensively, she played pretty well,” Bunner said. “She got something in her head about not seeing the ball (at the plate) like last year.”

But, the two-year co-captain’s departure, indeed, will impact the team, Bunner said.

“She was one of our leaders. She was pretty solid at second base,” he said. “Her leadership will be missed on and off the field.”

Southmoreland’s young lineup was riding a nine-game winning streak before back-to-back losses to end the season.

Before its 4-1 setback to Chestnut Ridge in the PIAA playoffs June 5, Southmoreland four days earlier dropped a 5-1 decision to Avonworth in the WPIAL title game.

Bunner said he’ll use the Scotties’ late-season losses as reference to those old-school nuances he hopes will hit home.

“You have a long season, but if you want to be a champion, you have to be able to overcome the distractions,” Bunner said. “The next step is to learn that whenever you get tired at the end of the season, you have to be mentally tough.”

Amarah McCutcheon, Southmoreland’s other co-captain, heads the lengthy list of returning players in 2024. She said the Scotties belonged in the WPIAL championship game after finishing first in Section 3-3A, at 9-1, two games ahead of second-place Yough.

“The loss to Avonworth stings,” she said.

“We talked about being on the big stage a lot. We thought we belonged on that stage. For some of our girls who aren’t as big into traveling long distances (during summer league competition), they hadn’t been on that stage. It’s an intense feeling. (College) coaches are standing right behind the fence.”

McCutcheon, a rising senior shortstop who is generating Division I interest, led Southmoreland in batting with a .500 average (30 for 60), home runs (11) and RBIs (33). She respects Bunner’s nuances as a coach, hoping to garner some hidden value in his teachings.

“If we make an error, he calls it ‘the snowball effect,’ ” McCutcheon said. “If we don’t show we’re getting something, he’ll have us come in the next morning and work on it until we do. He is one of the most dedicated people about softball that I’ve been around.”

While Bunner emphatically insisted, “No positions are filled (for next season),” he welcomes back the majority of his players.

Joining McCutcheon as returning starters from this season are senior pitcher Maddie Brown, senior infielders Gwen Bassinger, Kaylee Doppelheuer, Gabriella Grabiak and Brooke McBeth, junior catcher Makayla Etling and junior outfielders Taylor Doppelheuer and Riley Puckey.

Brown, a right-hander, posted a 14-4 record with a 2.37 ERA. She finished with 91 strikeouts and 26 walks and also batted .400 (16 for 40) with one home run and eight RBIs from the No. 9 spot.

McCutcheon and Brown formed a formidable 1-2 punch for the Scotties, who return four other players who batted better than .300.

Etling finished at .486 (35 for 72) with four home runs and 19 RBIs, Puckey batted .400 (22 for 55) with five homers and 19 RBIs, Taylor Doppelheuer hit .328 (20 for 61) with one homer and 12 RBIs and Bassinger batted .305 (18 for 59) with 17 RBIs.

“These players who finished out the year are going to have to continue to do things at a high level,” Bunner said. “I expect a lot of competition. We’ll keep working at it. I’m disappointed in how we finished, and they’re disappointed, too. But we had a good year. We won our section for the first time in 21 years, and our schedule battle-tested us for a WPIAL run.”

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