Early season trip gets title defense off to good start for North Hills softball

Saturday, April 23, 2022 | 9:01 AM

Forty-two years ago, Dolly Parton released the hit song “9 to 5.”

In the song, Parton sings, “Well you got dreams and you know they matter.”

The North Hills softball team, which started its defense of its 2021 Class 5A softball title just minutes from Parton’s hometown, has just that — dreams.

“This was a trip that was planned and paid for in 2020,” said 14th-year coach Libby Gaisor of the time in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. “We kept rolling it over (due to covid restrictions.).

“Some of these trips are kind of life-changing for our kids. Maybe they don’t get to take it if it’s not with this team. We lived in a 50-person cabin for four days. We did some really fun stuff. And we got to play some softball on top of it. It was a win all around.”

A year ago, the Indians made a surprising run to the program’s first championship in 21 years, doing so as the No. 8 seed and upsetting No. 1 Penn-Trafford along the way.

“I have 11 seniors returning, and we made a point, at the end of last year, to have 2021 to be about that 2021 team,” Gaisor said. “Now is our chance to write the 2022 chapter.

“Last year, we said that it’s a long season, a long run, and you have to take it every game at a time. When that proved to be how we won it, with that mentality, this is now a much calmer group. We’re very driven.”

Not only does Gaisor have the luxury of 11 seniors, but she also has seven returning starters and several college-bound players.

“We have almost a 13-14 person rotation,” said Gaisor. “It seems to be really promising.”

At the center of things is starting pitcher Sophia Roncone, a senior committed to Holy Cross.

“If you could make a student athlete, you’d want it to be Sophia Roncone,” Gaisor said. “She’s a leader. She’s solid, she has a great temperament, and she leads by example. She’s been such an important piece to everything we do.”

Maria Chutko, who is committed to Oberlin College, swung a good bat early in the season and filled in early on for Roncone in the circle a couple of times.

“Her bat has been amazing,” Gaisor said of Chutko. “It’s sad that I won’t get to coach another kid quite like Maria (after this season). But I’m glad I got to do it.”

Seton Hill recruit Kassidy Wittig has locked down the center field spot and has excelled at the plate early in the year, as have junior second baseman Brenna Westwood and Akron-bound senior Abigail Scheller, a catcher.

“In a section that’s loaded with really good catchers, she’s right up there,” said Gaisor.

After returning home from Tennessee, the Indians picked up wins over Mars, Shaler and Hampton, scoring 31 runs over those three games. But they did suffer a 7-0 setback at section rival Fox Chapel, and that’s given North Hills motivation to improve, knowing that what happens in April is not always a sign of things to come.

“Situational hitting has been really good for us, and we’re trying to stay hot with the bat,” Gaisor said. ”And defensively, we’re trying to jell. That teamwork is a big focus for us right now.”

North Hills officially closed the book on the 2021 season April 19 with a ring ceremony. The hope is that, a year from now, the 11 seniors who had the majority of their high school years heavily impacted by covid-19, will return to collect more jewelry.

“Not all 11 of them can start, obviously,” Gaisor said. “But that decision of the senior class to stick it out, and be a part of it, speaks a lot to those kids.”


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