Jeannette softball team works through grief, tries to change fortunes after 1-win season

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022 | 10:34 PM


Sydney Matijevic’s smile hid the pain in her heart. But while the Jeannette senior was smarting, she wasn’t quitting.

“I love to be here,” Matijevic said Wednesday after the Jayhawks’ softball practice at the high school. “I totally love it. I’ve always loved the sport. It cheers me up and takes my mind off certain things.”

In this case, she was wrestling with the loss of her grandmother, Charlene Matijevic, of Hempfield, who died Tuesday. The team was notified during their practice at Jeannette’s McKee Stadium.

“I told her she could take the week off, and she wanted to be here,” said Tubby Stein, Jeannette’s first-year coach. “I’m hoping for her to be the leader this year. She’s probably one of the top two girls on the team.”

Stein succeeds Joe Giacomin as Jeannette’s third coach in three years. He takes over a program that suffered through a 1-16 season in 2021.

“It’s been great having him teach us and take his time with us and make sure everyone knows what they are doing,” Matijevic said of Stein, a veteran coach at various levels but never in high school.

Matijevic’s father, John “Butch” Matijevic, as well as Stacey Walling, who played at Hempfield and Pitt-Johnstown, are serving as Stein’s assistants.

Sydney Matijevic, a pitcher/first baseman, said neither she nor her dad wanted to remain stationary at home during their time of grief. Sydney said she spoke to her grandfather, John “Big John” Matijevic, by phone but hadn’t yet seen him since Charlene Matijevic’s passing. She was 71.

“My dad wanted to be with my grandfather, but he said the same thing as I did,” Sydney Matijevic said. “Neither one of us thought it was productive to sit around and mope, even though we both feel so bad.”

Stein and his wife, Dody, who is serving as Jeannette’s scorekeeper and the support for her husband as he enters his first year, are going through their own heartache for some time now.

The Stein’s oldest daughter, Scarlett, died of a heart attack in December 2016 at 17.

“She never got to play her senior year here,” said Tubby Stein, a Jeannette graduate.

Scarlett Stein had been planning to continue playing softball in college, her father said, explaining that she wanted to study to be a forensic scientist.

As he discussed the ordeal, Stein turned his attention to another part of the field, where his younger daughter, Grace, a junior high student, was warming up.

“I told her she wasn’t pitching when she got to this level, and she said she wanted to because ‘that’s what my sister did,’ ” Tubby Stein said. “Before the season, she said, ‘Dad, why don’t you take this coaching job, and we’ll all be up there in a couple of years and you can help us out,’ ” he said.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we can fill my older daughter’s dreams.’ ”

While Jeannette struggled through a tough year last season, winning its final game to avoid going winless, Stein said things are in perspective as the Jayhawks prepare for a new season.

A total of 13 players are on the roster. Stein said a trio of juniors — shortstop Autumn Lavella, third baseman Savannah Lock and outfielder Frankie Crosby — will be counted on for leadership, in addition to Matijevic, the team’s lone senior.

Also, freshman Mia Sarpolis has been impressive, Stein said, and sophomore catcher Addasyn Stout is working on becoming a disciplined power hitter.

“Mia has really come to the next level to make an impact,” Stein said, “and Addie has good power, but we’ve got work to do to help her cut down her swing.”

They are part of seven returnees from a team last season that ended the year with just nine players.

Said Stein: “We’ve got a number of girls who have been working very hard to improve.”

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