Derry softball’s playoff-victory hunt turns to new coach DePalma

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Friday, March 6, 2020 | 9:19 PM


Derry’s softball team will embark on a new era with first-year coach John DePalma at the helm.

He has coached about half of the roster on traveling teams and wants to increase expectations around the program, which has lost in the first round of the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and hasn’t won in the postseason in any of his player’s lifetimes.

“We really need to work harder than we have in the past,” DePalma said. “We’re a small school, and a lot of the girls play multiple sports. By the time they get to the third season, they almost want to relax a little more. We have to change that to be just as successful (in softball) as we are in their other sports.”

DePalma held a team meeting Monday at the Trojans’ first practice with all of their players, in which they openly discussed the past and how to build for the future.

Derry will start with nonsection games against Greensburg Salem and Belle Vernon, which play up a classification in 4A.

“Our first games together will be against tough teams,” DePalma said. “They know that, but I told them they’d face those types of teams if they go deep in the playoffs … It’s a good start for the girls to see some high-end players and what they could be if they work hard.”

Senior Kamryn Kelly, who led the team with a .500 batting average and four home runs last season, will be the team’s top returning batter.

She is familiar with DePalma through travel teams.

“I knew he was coming here to start something new for us, and with that would be expectations and a fresh start,” the Shenandoah commit said. “He really critiques us, and it will help us in the long run. It was kind of a shock (to some players) because for the last three years we haven’t been used to that as much. He just told us mistakes will happen, and when they do, we’ll correct it and move on.”

Junior Gianna Copelli will the team’s leadoff hitter after batting .425 last season. Juniors Alanna Meloy and Maddie Berger and seniors Sarah Aukerman and Hannah Wedow also will be key contributors.

Wedow is making a return to the team after a year’s hiatus.

“I also play basketball and volleyball with her, and we were really on her to come back for softball,” Kelly said. “We just kept nagging her to come along, because she’s a great athlete. We needed that.”

Sophomore Abby Doperak and freshmen Sarah Dettling and Isabella DePalma will contribute to start their high school softball careers.

“We’ve added a lot of speed, which Derry hasn’t had in a long time,” John DePalma said.

Berger, whom DePalma described as a “junker,” will be the top pitcher.

“I set an expectation level for her, even though she is coming back a major shoulder injury,” DePalma said. “She’s been working very, very hard to get back into it.”

Copelli and junior Kiley Latshaw also will get innings on the mound.

“Right now, we’re working on the basics and the expectations we have,” DePalma said. “We’ve got to get them swinging to put the ball in play. We’ve got to get our pitchers throwing strikes. We’re focused on the basic fundamentals. We have tremendous athletes, and honestly they just have to believe in themselves.”

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