Highlands softball stalking long-awaited playoff win

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021 | 7:01 PM


The last time a Highlands softball team won a WPIAL playoff game, most of the current team members were just learning to walk and talk.

The Golden Rams scored a 9-3 win over Greensburg Salem in a Class AAA first-round game May 21, 2005. Franklin Regional got the better of Highlands, 4-0, four days later.

The program has been working to get back into the postseason win column ever since.

“I don’t know if some of the girls know too much about that (winless playoff drought),” said Golden Rams coach Jen Koprivinikar, who has helped guide her team to an 11-3-1 record overall and a 6-2 first-place mark in Section 1-4A. “I think they are really focusing on this season and wanting to go as far as they can in this year’s playoffs.”

This team, Koprivinikar said, built a lot of confidence and excitement playing local teams in a new section as they had their sights set on a return to the playoffs after the last trip in 2018.

“It’s really fun to have those local matchups and those rivalries,” Koprivinikar said. “We hadn’t had that for a long time. This is where we belong, against teams like Burrell, Freeport and Knoch. It was just tough to not have the opportunity to see what we could’ve done last year, and we lost some key players from that team. But the girls are grateful for the chance this year, and they want to make the most of it.”

Highlands has won four in a row and eight of nine overall and stands a half-game ahead of Burrell (6-4, 5-2) in the section standings.

The teams meet at 4 p.m. next Wednesday, May 12, at Highlands in a rematch of a 5-2 Burrell victory April 20. That game concludes the regular season with the WPIAL playoffs set to start May 17.

The immediate future for Highlands is a section matchup Friday at Greensburg Salem (4-10, 4-5). The Golden Rams won the first meeting, 9-3, on April 16.

“Every game in the section has been a battle, and you know you have to be at your best each time,” said junior pitcher Jaycee Haidze, who has shared time in the pitching circle this year with sophomore Abbie Deiseroth and senior Joie Beacom.

“These games have really helped us, along with our nonsection games, get prepared for the playoffs.”

The latest four-game run began in dramatic fashion April 23 as Highlands walked it off against Section 1-5A leader Armstrong, 10-9, on a run-scoring single from Deiseroth in the bottom of the seventh.

Highlands then collected 14 hits, led by three hits including a home run and three RBIs from Haidze, in a 13-2 victory over Freeport on April 26 that avenged a 14-4 loss to the Yellowjackets in the section opener 17 days earlier.

“I think that losing to Freeport the first time actually was good for us,” Haidze said. “It put us in our place and showed us that we needed to focus and showed us what we needed to work on. We came out the second time and hit the ball really well. We did well as a team.”

“That first game against Freeport, it was our first section game and there was a lot of hype with it,” Deiseroth said. “It made us come back the next time with a new mindset.”

Highlands used a combination of 15 hits and the pitching of Haidze to topple Knoch, 11-3, last Wednesday.

Haidze, senior Kylie Zourelius and junior Jess Cekada each tallied three hits, while Beacom had two. Deiseroth knocked in a team-best three runs.

“An important thing, along with winning, is that we all have fun going out there together, whether it’s in practice or in games,” Zourelias said.

Highlands hopes to add to its playoff resume when it faces Class 5A Mars on Monday.

“We’re still a younger team with just three seniors, and they are in starting positions, but we still have a lot of good players who are going to be around for the next year or two making big contributions,” Koprivinikar said. “The older and younger players really communicate and complement each other well. They’ve got each others’ backs where if someone isn’t doing well, someone else is there to pick them up. They are every bit of a team.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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