Latrobe softball team to rely on several underclassmen in quest for elusive title
Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 7:23 PM
For the past two seasons, the Latrobe softball team has been on the brink of winning a WPIAL championship.
In 2017, the Wildcats fell to Hempfield, 13-2, in the Class 6A final. The two teams matched up in the title game again last season. This time around the Wildcats took it to 10 innings, but narrowly fell short in a 2-1 nail-biter.
As the Wildcats embark on their 2019 campaign, their goals are still the same.
First, a section championship. Then, a WPIAL championship and finally a state championship.
The goals are lofty, but senior catcher Makayla Munchinski believes the Wildcats are known for playing at such a high level that those goals are attainable and coming up just short, two years in a row, has only added fuel to the fire.
“We remember that last game in the WPIAL, that doesn’t go away,” Munchinski said. “In the offseason, that definitely pushed us to work harder than any other year, knowing that we were so close. We don’t want to have that feeling again.”
Latrobe will have a different look after losing six starters to graduation, leaving coach Rick Kozusko to rely on a young group of players. With only three seniors and five juniors, a large class of 11 sophomores and three freshmen make up more than half of the roster.
Sophomores Jordan Tallman and Jordan Novak headline that large but talented group. Kozusko said he expects Tallman to contribute heavily this year, splitting time between the pitching circle and first base. Novak will return to third base after earning the starting spot there as a freshman last season.
With Tallman and Novak leading the way, Kozusko is hoping his younger players can step up to the plate and contribute as they look to return to the WPIAL championship.
“We need some of our talented younger players to step up this year,” Kozusko said. “We need to get the ball in play, put some pressure on the other teams’ defenses and be able to score some runs for our pitchers this season. We’ve been working hard on defense to back up our pitchers, and I think with this talented group of underclassmen, we’ll be able to do that.”
Although they are young, the Wildcats will still be returning a few key seniors in starting pitcher Kiley Myers and Munchinski, who will remain in her spot behind the plate.
Last season, Myers turned in a 0.93 ERA and struck out 142 batters in 90 innings. The Marist recruit likely will split time with Tallman this season as Kozusko called the pair, his 1-A and 1-B. But no matter who is in the circle, Munchinski believes the Wildcats will be in good hands.
“They are pretty similar, definitely in their presence on the mound,” Munchinski said. “They both attacked hitters, they are not afraid to throw their pitches, they will work right at the batter and challenge the batter. They both have phenomenal movement pitches, and it’s really fun to catch both of them because you can tell them where to put the ball and they hit their spots.”
While his pitchers are solid, Kozusko raved about Munchinski’s work behind the plate and added she was a true team leader. The Cal (Pa.) recruit also was a key contributor in the lineup last season, hittting .396. She won’t be the only big bat in the lineup either.
Ashley Noel rounds out the senior class and was a part-time starter last season, splitting time between designated player and first base.
Kozusko said Madison Smith could also be key for the Wildcats, playing all over the infield. And although she is injured right now, he added Mattalyn Harr could contribute at some point, as well.
The Wildcats have the talent for a successful season, but their success will come down to how their younger players are able to adapt to the game at the varsity level.
“We do have some holes to fill from those that moved on,” Kozusko said. “But we will be looking at a talented crop of young and improving players to fill those spots this season.”