Freshmen chip in all over Westmoreland softball scene

Wednesday, April 13, 2022 | 7:50 PM

There is a youth movement in local softball this spring.

Hempfield knows. Just look at first-year coach Tina Madison’s pitcher-catcher combo: Both are freshmen.

Pitcher Riley Miller deals to catcher Allie Cervola, the pair revealing a been-there-before aura against Class 6A hitters that impresses Madison, one of the best pitchers to come out of the program when she was Tina Skelly on the roster.

Hempfield for the first time ever is utilizing a freshmen battery, and they are doing more than handling it well,” Madison said. “People initially thought it couldn’t be done, but we are proving them wrong. It’s happening, and they are shining.”

Miller and Cervola are not alone. An influx of freshmen talent has reached the local landscape.

Unfettered and beaming with wide-eyed confidence, these ninth-graders are playing like they know something their older opponents do not.

• At Franklin Regional, freshmen Toryn Fulton and Ciara Camacho have emerged as power hitters who do not back down from the moment.

Yough freshman infielder Adoria Waldier looks like a game-changer for the Cougars.

• Catcher Mia Zubovic and third baseman Lauren VanDivner are ready to make an immediate impact at Belle Vernon.

• Several freshmen are eyeing a four-year career at Penn-Trafford and Southmoreland, programs known for producing big hitters. Third basemen Cameron Ponko of Penn-Trafford and Taylor Dopplehauer at Southmoreland are among the emerging talent.

Ligonier Valley has a power-hitting catcher in Sydney Foust and several other starting freshmen.

Madison said replacing standout catcher Emma Hoffner, now at Ohio University, was a chief concern in the offseason.

Cervola merged into the position almost seamlessly. Miller followed suit as she takes over the prestige position at Hempfield in the chalk circle.

“Rylie and Allie are teammates on Team Pennsylvania-Howard and have been playing together since they were 8 years old at New Stanton Recreation,” Madison said. “They have had much success in travel ball and have played in big games so they are handling the pressure well.”

Miller has 36 strikeouts against only one walk. She also was leading the top-ranked Spartans (4-0) with a .625 batting average.

Cervola was hitting .364.

Fulton and Camacho are two of the toughest outs in the Franklin Regional (8-1) lineup.

Neither seem to blink under pressure.

Camacho, the leadoff hitter and second baseman for the Panthers, was a baseball player until this season.

She cut her teeth playing against boys.

“By playing baseball, she has learned how to be a ball player,” Panthers coach Jim Armstrong said. “She has made the transition to softball rather easily. Offensively, I could not ask for anything more from her. Defensively … she is not afraid to dive for anything and has one of the strongest arms on the team.”

Camacho was hitting .525 with five home runs, 10 RBIs and 16 runs.

Fulton, a center fielder who also plays basketball and volleyball, had a .609 average with four homers, 18 RBIs and 14 runs.

“I had asked Toryn to play on our junior high team when she was in eighth grade,” Armstrong said. “She did and really was a big help to the coaches and also showed the other girls on the team how to play the game. To me, this is a sign of a selfless player.”

Waldier, who comes from an athletic family that features her brothers and football standouts CJ and Tristan, is one of top freshman prospects to come through the program in the last five years, coach Art “Dutch” Harvey said.

The shortstop/third baseman was hitting .400.

“She has some good power and is a top-notch athlete with size, speed, and strength,” Harvey said. “She is a Division I prospect but needs to mature and grow into that with some more softball experience.”

Harvey said freshmen Sidney Bergman is another player to watch in the Cougars outfield. She is the team’s backup pitcher.

Belle Vernon’s young talent also is showing early. Zubovic and VanDivner are starters and interchangeable at catcher and third.

“They both play on travel teams,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “I knew this past fall that they would probably be starting. Both did well. Both continue to work hard day in and day out.”

Zubovic had two homers and three RBIs over the first five games.

Rodriguez noted the obvious common denominator between the freshmen: travel ball.

“In almost all cases, it is evident that those playing travel ball are way further ahead than those that do not play,” the veteran coach said. “This has been especially true in the last 5-10 years.”

At practice, Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little sees freshmen everywhere he looks.

“Freshmen make up 43% of the team,” he said.

That includes Ponko, a talented hitter, strong defensive players Kylie Anthony and designated player Lorryn Sepe. They helped the Warriors to a 6-0 start.

Southmoreland (3-0) has been developing Dopplehauer, Makayla Etling (C) and Riley Puckey (CF).

Puckey was batting .400.

Penn-Trafford (5A) and Southmoreland (3A) are ranked third in their classifications.

Ligonier Valley also has ninth-grade contributors in Natalie Bizup at third base, Abby Will and Abby Henry, who is healing from an injury,

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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