Latrobe softball hopes old-school approach leads to playoff push
Thursday, March 17, 2022 | 7:09 PM
Bob Kovalcin is a throwback. He is as old-school as they come and darn proud of it.
“I still have a flip-phone,” the Latrobe softball coach said with a grin. “I don’t even own a computer. Don’t need one.”
In addition to his pencil-and-paper stats, Kovalcin also is vintage when it comes to coaching the Wildcats. Fundamentals mean more than anything to him, and they are essential for him to get the desired effect.
“We’re hoping to improve as the season goes on,” he said, “especially our defense. We made a lot of errors last year, and I was not happy with that. No more mental mistakes.”
Latrobe finished 10-5 overall and 8-2 in Section 2-5A as Kovalcin began his second stint.
The 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, so the coach still is implementing his system.
Now in his 17th season leading the program, Kovalcin led Latrobe to WPIAL titles in 2007, ’08 and ’11. He was coach from 2004-12 and pieced together a record of 141-49 with five section crowns.
Last year, the No. 2-seeded Wildcats lost to Indiana in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, 7-6.
Half of Latrobe’s wins came via shutout, which is a credit to some talented pitchers.
Jordan Tallman graduated and is pitching at Georgetown, but the Wildcats bring back a talented one-two combination in sophomore Kayla Williams and junior Josie Straigis.
Williams threw a pair of no-hitters, both against Gateway. She was 2-1 with 42 strikeouts in 22 2⁄3 innings.
Straigis had a 5-2 mark with 27 Ks in 39 innings.
“We’re going to pitch them both,” Kovalcin said. “Josie is getting back from basketball, so Kayla will probably get the early reps. We like the one-two punch with them.”
Kovalcin said he has three reliable seniors in Bailey Watson (outfield/DP), Jenna Tallman (3B/DP) and Alanna Thiel (OF/DP).
“There is some really good leadership there,” Kovalcin said.
An all-state player, Tallman hit .404 with a team-best five home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 runs.
“We have high hopes with our hitting,” said Tallman, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit. “I think we’re going to hit the crap out of the ball. I am really excited for this year.”
Junior Emma Blair also returns at first base. She hit .439 with 17 RBIs.
“We brought back fall ball and had good numbers,” Kovalcin said. “We have 25 girls, varsity and JV. Our pitchers and catchers were here in November and December.”
Other key players include junior outfielder Sydney Degram, a transfer from Michigan, junior second baseman Lauren Weatherton, sophomore Corrine Wright, as well as other letterwinners in juniors Hayden Kraynick, Brynna King and Gabi Burd.
“We had speed and power,” Kovalcin said. “I’m ready.”
The Wildcats’ schedule won’t skimp on nonsection talent. They will play defending Class 3A WPIAL and PIAA champion Mt. Pleasant, Ligonier Valley and star pitcher Maddie Griffin, North Allegheny, big-hitting Norwin, Canon-McMillan and Pine-Richland.
The coach expects Penn-Trafford, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Regional, and Armstrong to be strong in 5A, with his team squarely in the mix.
“That’s your top five right there,” he said.
Circling back to the old-school theme, Kovalcin sets high standards for his players. The girls must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average to play for him.
Accountability means more than batting averages.
“Players win games and coaches lose them,” he said. “My job is to get them ready to play, but they need to go out and execute. I know the travel ball is big where daddy-hacking is the big thing and parents want D-1 scholarships. I get that. I like home runs, too. But I want the team to win championships and for the girls to win medals and section banners. I’ll take a 3-1 win every time.
“Do you want your nine best, or your best nine?”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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