‘Good nucleus’ to keep Kiski Area softball team competitive in tough section

Thursday, March 17, 2022 | 6:43 PM

John Kinnamon led Apollo-Ridge softball to four consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances, but this year he moved up the Kiskiminetas River a few miles to coach Kiski Area.

Kinnamon is a Kiski Area graduate, and he’ll look to improve the softball program like he did when he was with the Vikings.

He’s taking over a Cavaliers team that finished 5-10 overall in 2021 and 4-8 in Section 1-5A, missing the playoffs for a second season in a row.

“It’s a small valley, so I knew some of the girls and had seen them play before,” Kinnamon said. “It was a good opportunity to come home so to speak, so it’s all good.

“We’re working on getting girls committed to the program. That’s the first key no matter where you go. You have to get the numbers up. It looks like the middle school program is going to be sending a lot of girls up in the next few years, so that’s good. We’re just looking to get buy-in and turning it around.”

The Cavaliers graduated a pair of first-team all-section performers in outfielder Kassandra Cessna and designated hitter Alayna Mintz.

They do return top pitcher Hannah Simpson, a junior who committed to Seton Hill. She was an all-section honorable mention a season ago.

“She’ll be our No. 1,” Kinnamon said. “She’s solid, and she’s a workhorse. We’ll ride with her as much as we can.”

Second baseman Ashlee Bair is a LaRoche recruit. Bair hit .326 last year. Mackenzie Favero, a junior, is the leading returning hitter. She had a .375 batting average. Other returners that had a lot of playing time last year include seniors Madyson Hall, Isabel Ramos and Madi Leith.

“We’ve got a lot of girls that will be playing new positions, but we have a good nucleus of girls with experience,” Kinnamon said. “We should be competitive. We just have to find the best position for each of the girls and give them time to learn it and settle in.”

Last week’s snow storm put a halt to any thoughts of outdoor practices. As of Monday, the Cavaliers hadn’t got on the field, but with warmer weather coming later in the week, the hope was to get outside.

In the meantime, there’s been plenty of hitting in the cage.

“I’ve seen the girls hit off the machine pretty regularly since the beginning of the year, but we haven’t faced any live pitching yet (as of Monday),” Kinnamon said. “They look good. They’re hitting the ball hard and recognizing pitch locations. They’re working hard.”

Kiski Area is in Section 1-5A again with state runner-up Armstrong, defending section champion Plum, Franklin Regional, Indiana, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

The Cavaliers jump right into section play with their first regular season game, March 29 at Woodland Hills.

“At this point, it’s just word of mouth and I’m still feeling my way around learning this section,” Kinnamon said. “The proof is there for Armstrong that they are a good program.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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