Hempfield softball team starting to show look of contender again

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021 | 5:59 PM


It would seem Hempfield has a lifetime pass in the WPIAL softball rankings, a permanent perch maybe, among the elite.

When the Spartans, who have won five straight championships in the league’s largest classification, do not appear in the Class 6A top five, something must be off.

The preseason No. 1 fell from the top five recently, after a 15-3 haymaker of a loss to North Allegheny, but the team has resurfaced as a contender. (Maybe it never left).

This is not a down year by any stretch, but it could be another case of Hempfield saving its best for when it matters most.

The team has won four in a row and was tied with Pine-Richland for second place in Section 2-6A, one game behind Norwin.

“I don’t put much stock in section championships,” said Kalp, who turned 76 on Wednesday. “You want to be able to compete with the best teams going into the tournament. That is the goal.”

Many teams in the past have made the mistake of discounting the Spartans way too early in the race.

“The one thing you never want to do with Hempfield teams is doubt us,” senior catcher Emma Hoffner said. “Not being ranked motivates us. We started slow a couple years ago, and people doubted us then, too.”

Hempfield (8-3, 4-2 Section 2), which rallied past No. 2 Norwin, 10-5, to complete the first go-round of section play, is primed for a strong second half now that senior pitcher Callie Sowers is back and the team is hitting with authority.

“That was a huge win,” said Hoffner, an Ohio commit who homered twice against Norwin. “We know we need to be playing our best at the right time of year.”

Sowers is 5-0 since returning from a broken thumb she suffered in a scrimmage against junior Maddie Griffin and Ligonier Valley.

“I am just trying to get more consistency,” Sowers said. “I know it’s going to click. I just have to trust the process. I am taking a lot of vitamins and using ice and heat.”

Could she also be on pace to have her best games in the playoffs? April showers bring May … Sowers?

Her battery mate also is trusting the process.

“We’re getting better with more reps,” Hoffner said. “With Callie, her worst day is a lot better than some people’s best day. We know she will be fine.”

Kalp wants a sharper edge to his defense, which annually — scrap 2020, of course — is known for its crispness and dependability. This year’s group, although young and down a year of development after the covid shutdown last spring, is improving.

“Now is the time to get experienced,” Kalp said.

The offense seems to be in good shape.

Six times the Spartans have scored at least 10 runs this season, using big innings to come back or add to leads.

“Not being in the rankings just shows us we need to beat those better teams to prove how good we are,” Sowers said. “We know what we need to do.”

Hempfield has just three seniors — Sowers, Hoffner and dependable hitter Kelsi Terzolino — but is seeing greater contributions from its future prospects, including freshmen Hannah Uhrinek, Olivia Grimmer and Sarah Podkul, part of a 14-player ninth-grade class.

“The younger girls have fit in well for us,” Sowers said. “Hopefully, we can show them what Hempfield softball is all about.”

Kalp continues to preach fundamentals and goes through defensive reps and situational drills in practice daily.

“The little things go unnoticed,” he said. “We come in for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes on Saturdays and two hours on Sundays. We’re a six-day-a-week program, and the girls know that when they sign up.

“It’s not a lot of fun unless you enjoy winning and working hard to do so.”

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

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