Belle Vernon softball hopes following formula results in WPIAL playoffs return

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 7:52 PM

The formula to success for the Belle Vernon softball team is simple.

Get great pitching, play solid defense when needed and have timely hitting.

Since Tom Rodriguez became coach in 2002, the formula has worked wonders. Belle Vernon has won four WPIAL championships (’07, ’15, ’17, ’18) and played for the title in ’08. The Leopards, however, got away from things last season. Rodriguez said the pitching and defense were OK. It was timely hitting that kept the team from qualifying for the postseason.

“We didn’t hit well the whole season, so we’ve put a new focus on hitting,” Rodriguez said.

In previous seasons, Belle Vernon used one pitching machine, but Rodriguez said the problem was batters only saw one type of pitch, and “everything was right down the middle.”

Heading into this season, which begins March 20 against Greensburg Salem in a nonsection home game, Belle Vernon is using two hitting machines.

“We used the machine plenty during the offseason,” junior Sophie Godzak said. “We saw different types of pitches and different types of speeds, and we could move it to where it would pitch to different areas. Plus, we saw a lot of live pitching this offseason. … I really think our hitting will come around. Maybe not right away, but it’s going to come around.”

During a four-game win streak last April, Belle Vernon scored 48 runs. After that, the Leopards scored 41 runs over their final 10 games. The lack of production led to a 7-13 record and a 5-7 mark in Section 2-4A.

Belle Vernon hopes five returning starters can provide those timely hits while the search for players to fill vacancies at first base, catcher and in the outfield continues.

Senior Natalie French (second base), sophomore Ashley Joll (shortstop), junior Vanessa Porter (third base) and sophomore Abby Fabin (outfield) should provide quality defense behind Godzak.

A righty, Godzak emerged from a trio of pitching candidates last season. She throws four pitches: curveball, screwball, rise and a drop curve.

“I’ve really been pushing myself this offseason. I wanted to get better for the team, be the best that I can be,” Godzak said. “I’ve been going to a trainer, going to the gym for almost six months. It’s definitely paying off.”

The rise is a work in progress, but the veteran coach likes what he sees.

“There’s better movement this year,” Rodriguez said. “The thing I really like about her is nothing fazes her. It’s always a straight path with her.”

Belle Vernon hopes a straight path points back toward the playoffs.

“I’d like for us to get back to the point where we make the playoffs,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard to win the WPIAL every year, but this year, we’re much more focused on making the playoffs. We were one game out last year.”


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