Brentwood softball, baseball teams reflect on highlights from unusual season
Sunday, May 23, 2021 | 11:01 AM
Brentwood’s softball team hit the reset button and was able to end the season with an impressive six-game winning streak.
The Spartans captured their season opener against Northgate, 15-0, but lost eight of their next nine before going on the late-season tear. Brentwood finished 8-8 overall and 5-7 in Section 2-2A.
“At the beginning of the season we definitely lacked consistency from day to day with our performance,” coach Jennifer Ditoro said. “After our loss (April 23) against Carlynton, a team which we usually do well against, we took some time to hit the reset button, and I reminded the girls that the windshield in bigger than the rearview mirror.
“They did a great job resetting themselves and were able to play as a more cohesive unit. The girls were able to run the table and defeated three teams we had lost to earlier in the season — Serra Catholic, Apollo-Ridge, which has quality playoff-bound programs, and Seton LaSalle, who we knocked out of playoff contention.”
The Spartans were sparked by the likes of junior pitcher/shortstop Kellie Bruschi, senior center fielder Sidney Wuenschell, freshman first baseman Mia March, sophomore catcher Brianna Folino, sophomore shortstop Mackenzie Castiglione and sophomore left fielder Katie Conway.
“Kellie Bruschi, who historically has not been a starting pitcher, came in to our first section game in relief and never looked back,” Ditoro said. “Without her willingness to work hard and battle, our team would not have been able to see the late-season success that we did.
“Sidney Wuenschell and Mia March came up with big plays and big bats when needed all season.”
The team made a tactical decision early on that paid big dividends later in the season.
“Brianna Folino made the move from second base early so that we could get more depth and range at the shortstop position with Mackenzie Castiglione, who is also a phenomenal catcher,” Ditoro said. “Bri really adapted well and became a big presence behind the plate and an on-the-field leader, and Kenz willingly took on the challenge of (playing) middle infield and did a great job.
“Katie Conway led the way with her sound defense and excellent base running. She is unintimidated by tough game situations and rises to the occasion under pressure.”
Rounding out the starting lineup were junior second baseman Bailey Herrera, the team’s leadoff hitter, senior third baseman Paige Miller, and the DP/flex combination of junior Alyssa Steele and senior Alyssa Budd, who platooned in right field.
“Also, freshman utility player Gemma Stypula does whatever is requested of her — run, field or pinch hit – unselfishly and with 100 percent effort,” Ditoro said.
Brentwood edged Serra Catholic, 3-1, at the end of April, then defeated Jeannette twice, California, Apollo-Ridge and Seton LaSalle this month.
“The end of this season was absolutely incredible,” Wuenschell said. “We really pulled through at the end, and I’m so proud.”
Thanks to the strong finish, Buschi anticipates a stronger playoff push by Brentwood in 2022.
“Overall, the team played really well this year,” Bruschi said. “We struggled a little bit early on, but we got better as the year went on. In May, we started to play as a team, and it showed on the field.
“Next year, I think we have a great chance to make playoffs. With how we ended the season, it showed us that we have the ability to compete with the rest of the teams in our section.”
The Spartans won their last five contests by a 60-12 scoring margin, averaging 12 runs per contest.
“This season presented multiple challenges, ranging from changes in preparation format due to covid policy to realigning our lineup with veteran and rookie players after a one-year hiatus,” Ditoro said. “I am very proud of the girls for riding the wave at the end of the season and showing their mental toughness when the games were down to the wire. Hopefully, our end-of-the-year run will set the tone for the 2022 season.
“Improvement is what we wanted to see as coaches as the year progressed, and that is exactly what the girls did. We had to make some position changes early in the season to make sure we could compete at the highest level possible. We got hot a tad too late for a playoff berth; however, we hope to use this as a springboard for next season.
“My plan is to take a few weeks to sit back and evaluate the season and, as always, look forward to the future.”
Pair hits .400 for baseball squad
Brentwood’s baseball team batted .325 as a group in 2021 and had a pair of .400 hitters in center fielder Riley Brendel (.442) and catcher/third baseman Mike Guckes (.419), both seniors.
That’s the good news.
On the other hand, the Spartans, who had anticipated making a playoff run, finished with a 5-7 record in Section 4-2A and 5-11 overall.
“This season didn’t turn out how we were hoping,” coach Greg Perdziola said. “The thing that hurt us the most was giving teams extra outs. It seemed like any time we made a mistake in the field, it would open the floodgates for a big inning for the other team. However, our hitting was pretty good this year.
“I can’t be more proud of this team’s effort and how they were focused and competed in every game down the stretch. Especially this group of seniors … I feel bad for them not making the playoffs and losing their junior year due to the pandemic. But they never quit competing. It was a good group of seniors and they will be missed.”
Two other leading hitters for the Spartans were senior middle infielder Josh Griener (.340) and junior left fielder Lucas Huntley (.327). Guekes led the club in extra base hits and tied for the lead in RBIs with Griener and Huntley.
“Again, this was a good group of seniors, and they will be missed, ” Perdziola said.
Prior to 2020, Brentwood qualified for the WPIAL playoffs five consecutive times.
“I’m honestly a little disappointed with not continuing our playoff streak,” said Brendel, a two-sport standout who said one of his goals was to keep his strikeout total as low as possible.
“I brought down my strikeout count down by around 10 Ks,” he said.
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