Derry softball to be tested early on by nonsection opponents

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Saturday, March 20, 2021 | 1:28 PM


The message was clear. With an entire year to think things over, it’s time to make a move.

Second-year Derry softball coach John DePalma, though he has yet to have coached the Trojans in a game because of the coronavirus shutdown last season, likely won’t have to wait much longer to see whether his players have heard his pleas.

“We’ve got to keep grinding to see where we end up,” said DePalma, a former Derry baseball assistant who succeeded Pat Meloy as softball coach after the 2019 season.

“I told them we’ve literally done nothing (recently). For the seniors, this is it. It’s time to make some kind of move. We’re constantly teaching here. We have some of that travel team mentality, but there’s always a teaching concept of the game of softball and what to expect and how the speed changes through the different levels.”

The Trojans’ first test April 1 promises to be a formidable challenge with a trip to Mt. Pleasant, a WPIAL Class 4A runner-up and PIAA semifinalist in 2019.

The Vikings have stepped back in class this season to Class 3A, where Derry will continue to play in Section 1 with Deer Lakes, East Allegheny, North Catholic, Shady Side Academy and Valley.

Mt. Pleasant, whose only two losses in 2019 came to Elizabeth Forward in the WPIAL Class 4A championship and the PIAA semifinals, joins Section 3-3A this season.

“We’re definitely going to have a tough road the first couple of games,” DePalma said. “Hopefully, we can settle into the section and make a move.”

Derry goes on the road a week later for a pair of games against two other returning Class 3A playoff qualifiers, Southmoreland in its section opener April 7 and North Catholic on April 9.

Five seniors are part of a 16-player Derry roster that also includes seven freshmen.

“I’m going to play the best girl at each position regardless of their age,” DePalma said. “You have to earn your spot. We’ve had a lot of good camaraderie, a lot of good learning experiences to where we just need to play the game.”

The Trojans went 4-11 in 2019.

DePalma said senior Madalynn Berger will get the opening-day start in the circle after serving as the team’s No. 2 pitcher in previous years. Freshman Maizie Legge, who DePalma said is the Trojans’ hardest thrower, and senior Alexis Jellison also can be called upon.

“I’m really going to be leaning on Maddie Berger,” DePalma said. “She’s the go-to pitcher this year. We need her to stay healthy and do the things she needs to do to maintain the strength in her arm. We need her to be a team leader.”

DePalma said Jellison is healthy after recovering from double knee surgeries.

Junior Shelby Glick and sophomore Isabella DePalma are expected to rotate between catcher and first base with freshman Samantha Gruska adding depth behind the plate.

Seniors Jellison and Alanna Meloy, junior Abigail Doperak and freshman Lea Corbett round out the infield prospects.

The outfield candidates include seniors Gianna Copelli and Carissa Bateman, sophomore Sarah Dettling and freshmen Rebecca Huss, Ally Loucks, Rachelle Marinchek and Makayla Shirley.

“These freshmen need to learn the ropes and pick up the pace with the speed of the game,” John DePalma said.

“We’re opening with a powerhouse in Mt. Pleasant. We need to see this type of team to see where we are before we start our section schedule.”

DePalma isn’t calling this season a rebuild. Instead, he is hoping his young players can mesh and contribute enough to help put Derry on track.

“We have a good nucleus of veterans and young players,” DePalma said. “We’ve got a sophomore and freshman pitcher on the roster, both quality pitchers for next year. That’s the sort of thing that makes it very exciting to me to watch this program grow and move forward.”

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