Derry softball team needs influx of talent

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Friday, March 11, 2022 | 8:51 PM


At the Derry softball field, the “help wanted” sign is out.

“I still have spots open,” coach John DePalma said as the Trojans prepared for a March 25 visit from Apollo-Ridge for their season opener.

“I don’t have the luxury of a lot of girls, but for the ones that are here, we’re constantly coaching them. We have very few high-end travel girls. We only have two that are playing Class A travel ball.”

It’s a sign of the times, trying to get the upper hand with a roster full of year-round competitors. No matter their experience level, DePalma is hoping his returning players will respond. The Trojans are coming off a year that produced the school’s first WPIAL playoff victory.

But the current Derry team is hoping to find suitable replacements for several key players, now departed.

“We’re pretty much a new team,” DePalma said. “We lost five seniors from last year, and we lost a lot of defense.”

The “help wanted” sign is calling for replacements for, among others, No. 1 pitcher Maddie Berger and power-hitting outfielder Carissa Bateman.

Berger hurled Derry to its groundbreaking playoff win, 3-1 over South Park, and Bateman tied Isabella DePalma for the team lead in home runs (four) and was second with 13 RBIs.

The Trojans closed the season 7-7 (6-4 in Section 1) after losing to eventual PIAA Class 3A champion Mt. Pleasant, 6-0, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, an oddly encouraging sign.

“We were able to take Mt. Pleasant seven innings,” DePalma said. “That didn’t happen often in the playoffs. We had the opportunity to watch them play, watch them execute. Hopefully, that gave the girls some inspiration to know where they have to be.”

Mt. Pleasant outscored its first six postseason opponents by a combined 49-0 before finally being scored upon in the PIAA championship game in a 5-3 victory over District 2 champion Mid Valley.

“We’re trying to build a program of very good high school players,” DePalma said. “We look to Mt. Pleasant as the standard. We look at teams that are similar and we feel we’re on the right track. We have a little bubble (of travel team girls) coming through next year, which is going to provide us with some strength and depth to the roster. You could see us back again (in the playoffs).”

Not that DePalma is dismissing the 2022 season.

“I was very excited for the girls when we won that playoff game,” he said. “I wanted them to experience that and I wanted them to play a good team that they’ve not seen before, knowing they’re the underdog. We came in as the ninth seed, and we beat a higher seed.”

DePalma has tabbed sophomore Maize Legge as Derry’s No. 1 pitcher.

His daughter, Isabella, a catcher committed to Division II Pitt-Johnstown, heads the returnees after leading the Trojans in batting average (.564), home runs (four) and RBIs (17).

Other key returnees are senior infielder Abby Doperak (.485 BA), senior first baseman Shelby Glick (.333) and junior center fielder Sarah Dettling.

DePalma said he’s been impressed with freshman Sophia Dougherty, a versatile newcomer who can play multiple positions.

“She’s got a big bat,” he said. “She can catch, play a corner and even the outfield, if she has to.

“I know these girls and what their abilities are. I’m trying to get them prepared.”

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