Expectations to remain high for Leechburg softball program

Thursday, June 6, 2019 | 6:07 PM

Even though expectations are always high for Leechburg softball, coach Debbi Young had her own expectations exceeded this year.

Not that the fifth-year coach didn’t expect a section title and a 33rd consecutive WPIAL playoff berth for the program. The Blue Devils made the Class A semifinals and won the WPIAL consolation game to qualify for the state playoffs for the first time in 10 years, finishing 17-3.

But the team had plenty of question marks before the season.

“It was a very pleasant, surprising season, something I didn’t expect,” Young said. “We had to move some people to different positions, we needed a pitcher, a second baseman and (first baseman) Gracie Reinke was hurt to start the season.”

Sophomore Emma Ritchie emerged as a quality pitcher, and Kelci Spiering took over at second base. Reinke eventually returned and was the designated player in the batting order.

Leechburg got out of the gate quickly, winning its first 10 games before losing to Apollo-Ridge, 12-5, in an April 29 nonsection encounter.

The Blue Devils finished the section season at 12-0, scoring in double digits each game.

“They all know about the playoff streak, especially the seniors,” Young said of her players. “Kiera Jones had an older sister that made states, and we always talk about the history here at Leechburg.”

Leechburg earned the second seed in the WPIAL playoff bracket and a first-round bye before defeating Jeannette in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils lost a semifinal against Union before knocking off Jefferson-Morgan, 3-2, in the Class A consolation game.

“Our shortstop, McKenna Pierce, really blossomed this year,” Young said. “She’s not a true shortstop. She was better as a second baseman and an outfielder, but we had a position to fill and suddenly something clicked.”

Pierce, a junior, responded with a .500 batting average and solid play in the field.

Leechburg’s season ended with a 14-4 setback against DuBois Central Catholic on Monday at Heindl Field in DuBois, one of finest facilities in Western Pennsylvania.

“I saw the look on our girls’ faces as the bus arrived,” Young said. “They were excited to play on an all-artificial field.”

It was bittersweet for the three senior starters who played in likely their last interscholastic softball game.

The rarest of all softball rarities, lefthanded catcher Kristen Knapp, will be joining the Air Force in the fall. Jones has cosmetology certification from Lenape Technical School, and first baseman Aubry Skeel will enter nursing school at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Aspinwall.

On the way home from Monday’s game, Knapp tweeted: “And just like that, my Leechburg days are over. I’m truly blessed to have had the opportunity to play with such amazing teammates and coaches.”

Knapp will be hard to replace, but Young said freshman Bella Vozar is eager for a shot behind the plate. Ritchie, who had an ERA of 1.74 before facing the DuBois Central hitting barrage Monday, has two years left in the circle.

Reinke is expected to return to first base in 2020, and the Blue Devils will attempt to extend their playoff streak to 34 years.


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