For St. Joseph softball, it’s ‘time to have fun’

Saturday, May 19, 2018 | 11:03 PM

St. Joseph experienced the excitement of the WPIAL softball playoffs last spring for the first time in the program's three-decade history. But with that excitement came an unintended consequence — pressure — that built even as the Spartans continued to make school history.

The playoffs, indeed, are a different animal, as St. Joseph learned last season. But it's one the players feel more equipped to wrangle this season.

No. 8 St. Joseph (11-4) opened the playoffs last week with a 13-0, five-inning rout of No. 9 Western Beaver in the WPIAL Class A first round. It was, in some ways, reminiscent of the Spartans' mercy-rule victory over Cornell in the first round last season — the first playoff victory in school history — but it still felt different.

“It definitely calms the nerves going into it for the second time,” said senior Anna Swierczewski, who had three RBIs in the win over Western Beaver. “Last year, I don't want to say there was a lot put on us, but making history, that was all kind of weighing down on us. This year, there's nothing else to beat. It's just time to have fun.”

St. Joseph had plenty of it in the first round, dispatching Western Beaver easily by scoring 12 runs in the first inning. The players mobbed senior Serena Edgar at the plate after her first-inning grand slam. It was, as Edgar pointed out with a laugh after the game, only the second time in her career she cleared the wall on a home run.

“We had a lot of confidence coming in, and that's why we put all those runs up in the first inning,” Edgar said. “We're just rolling and having fun.”

Eight of St. Joseph's nine starters played in the 2017 postseason, and many of them are three- or four-year starters. Last postseason gave them a taste of the difference between the dozens of regular-season games they played and one playoff game.

“It's teams we haven't seen before, mostly, so you don't know what to expect coming in,” Edgar said. “I think (now) if we don't expect what we're going up against, we're still doing good.”

The Spartans played one of their most complete games of the season against Western Beaver, not leaving a runner on base. Junior pitcher Shelby Gogal yielded just three hits, and the defense — a problem at times during the regular season — backed her up.

“We have six senior starters, and most of them have been together since freshman year,” St. Joseph coach Dan Edgar said. “They were ready. They know what to expect. And they took care of business. I couldn't be any more happy.”

A stiffer test awaits St. Joseph in the quarterfinals Monday evening at Canon-McMillan: top-seeded West Greene (16-4), the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class A champion. The Pioneers, who are coming off a first-round bye, boast a .433 team batting average and are led by twins Madison and McKenna Lampe, Madison Renner and Jade Renner, all of whom have high averages and power to spare.

“They're loaded,” Dan Edgar said.

Again, it's reminiscent of last season, when St. Joseph ran into a talented and experienced Carmichaels team in the quarterfinals and suffered a lopsided loss. But the Spartans hope they're more ready this time around.

“(We need to) hit the ball,” Swierczewski said. “If our pitching's there and our defense is there, hit the ball. That's all we've got to do. Hitting is definitely our strong suit. I think if we keep our bats up, we'll do just fine.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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