HIghlands softball expecting to have breakout season

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 7:21 PM

Rachel Blackburn needs infield work, and she knows it.

An IUP commit for swimming, she has to compete in her last races Saturday at the PIAA championships before she can begin to field grounders and turn double plays Sunday.

There is a sense of urgency to get caught up with her teammates, Blackburn said, because it is the best softball team Highlands has had in years.

“I say it all the time to the girls, to the coaches, to anyone, that we’re going to be tough this year and that we’re going to be contenders,” Blackburn said. “I’m excited. It would be crazy if we could be one of the top teams.”

The Golden Rams were 3-7 in the section last season but regularly played close games against their rivals.

“We could really come together with a lot of skilled players,” coach Jennifer Koprivnikar said. “We could go pretty far if we stick together.”

Sophomore Jaycee Haidze will be the Golden Rams’ primary pitcher. She has developed two new pitches since last season, which Koprivnikar believes will give opponents headaches at the plate.

“Jaycee has been doing this a long time for travel ball, and as a sophomore she has instincts and a quiet confidence when she is out there,” Koprivnikar said. “With her two new pitches, she can overpower you, but she can outthink you also.”

Freshman Abby Deiseroth also will earn starts on the mound, and junior Joie Beacom will be a reliever.

“They’re all three completely different pitchers, and they all know how to work batters,” Blackburn said. “They know how to adjust if they are struggling with one pitch, and they can all easily step in and do really solid work.”

Highlands’ lineup typically has lacked punch, but Koprivnikar is optimistic that will change.

Sophomores Jess Cekada, Maera Williams and Haidze will fill out the middle of the lineup. Junior Kiley Zourelias, senior Sarah Sawhook, Beacom and Blackburn also will be key contributors.

Deiseroth and freshman catcher Kassidy Cambal, who recently threw out six runners in a scrimmage, also will compete to be in the starting lineup.

“Our weakness is usually our hitting, and I don’t see a weak bat in the lineup this season,” Koprivnikar said. “Even if they’re not sluggers, they’re going to hit line drives, and they all have speed. They’re a really athletic group.”

Mt. Pleasant and Yough were a combined 18-2 in Section 1-4A last season and are preseason favorites for playoff berths.

“The section itself is very challenging,” Koprivnikar said. “Every team is strong all the time.”

Blackburn hopes section rivals soon will say the same thing about the Golden Rams.

“I have faith in this team,” Blackburn said. “We have the potential to be great, and I’ve been thinking about it all of this year. Just like my races, I think the same way about our games. I always picture us in the playoffs and winning. That’s just been the dream since my freshman year.”


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