Hempfield softball coach preps for 1st WPIAL playoff run

Thursday, May 12, 2022 | 8:45 PM

If Hempfield first-year coach Tina (Skelly) Madison wanted any tip about what to expect in the WPIAL playoffs, there are numerous coaches in Westmoreland County who have won or coached in PIAA championship games.

But probably her best source is the man she replaced, former coach Bob Kalp.

It’s no secret some of the best softball in the WPIAL comes from the county.

So it’s not surprising the county has numerous teams capable of winning WPIAL and PIAA titles in all six classifications this season.

Hempfield (Class 6A), Penn-Trafford (5A), Yough (4A) and Mt. Pleasant (3A) have PIAA banners hanging at their fields. Latrobe (5A) and Ligonier Valley (2A) have been to title games.

The biggest thing all coaches will be expressing to their teams is there is no tomorrow if you lose in the early rounds.

“Many of these girls play competitive travel ball where if you lose, you have another tournament next week,” Madison said. “You lose in the WPIAL or PIAA playoffs, you have to wait a year to get another shot.

“You have to respect everyone you play and treat every game as your last. I’ve tried to put them in some high-pressure situations. That’s why we played Armstrong and Penn-Trafford. So I try to put them in the toughest situations I can. So we’re preparing for the playoffs.”

Hempfield is seeded No. 1 and will face the winner of Monday’s game between Baldwin and Norwin on May 1 at Penn-Trafford. Norwin and Baldwin play 3 p.m. Monday at West Mifflin.

Madison’s memory of her postseason playing experience was a loss to North Hills.

“You never know what to expect in the playoffs,” Madison said. “You have to been ready for anything.”

Penn-Trafford received the No. 2 seed in Class 5A. Armstrong, which played in the PIAA 5A final, is seeded No. 1. The Warriors play Plum at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Norwin.

Latrobe is seeded No. 12 and will face No. 5 West Allegheny 6 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny. No. 9 Kiski Area battles No. 8 Thomas Jefferson at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Plum, and No. 7 Franklin Regional gets No. 10 Shaler at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Fox Chapel.

Latrobe coach Bob Kovalcin said teams prepare all season for this time of year.

“I think you have to stride in the right direction in the middle of the season,” Kovalcin said. “You tone things down. Practices get a little smaller, but they get a little more intense and get stricter.

“We don’t need three-hour practices. You get in, get your work done and move on. I feel we’re in a good spot.”

Latrobe defeated playoff-bound Belle Vernon, 11-0, on Tuesday and then stung Class 6A No. 1 Hempfield, 8-3, on Wednesday.

Yough and Belle Vernon begin the 4A playoffs Wednesday at Plum. No. 4 Yough faces Blackhawk at 3 p.m., and No. 6 Belle Vernon gets No. 11 New Castle at 5 p.m.

No. 1 Beaver, No. 2 Elizabeth Forward and No. 3 Burrell received first-round byes.

Mt. Pleasant coach Chris Brunson is happy to be in the playoffs after a slow start. Now he’d like to see his team make another run.

The Vikings received the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 North Catholic at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Fox Chapel. The winner faces No. 1 Avonworth on Thursday.

No. 5 Southmoreland will face No. 12 Derry at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Norwin, and No. 7 Valley battles No. 10 Keystone Oaks at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Plum.

“The players won’t be overwhelmed by the moment because many have been there,” Brunson said. “They know what to expect.

“We’ve made some defensive switches, which seemed to help. We’ve always had the hitting, now we’re pitching and playing better defense.”

Brunson switched Kate Hutter to shortstop, his daughter Krista moved to the outfield and Sophia Smithnosky took over in the circle.

“The majority of the roster has been there,” Brunson said. “I believe being there will be a benefit for us.

“We’ve made some defensive changes, and kids bought in. Pitching and defense has been a lot better.”

Ligonier Valley, which played in the Class 2A PIAA championship last year, was seeded No. 3 behind No. 1 Neshannock and No. 2 and unbeaten Frazier.

The Rams, behind the dominating pitching of Maddie Griffin, face No. 14 Bentworth at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Norwin.

In Class A, Greensburg Central Catholic is seeded No. 3 behind No. 1 West Greene and No. 2 Union. The Centurions received a first-round bye and will play the winner of the No. 6 Leechburg-No. 11 Rochester game Thursday.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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