Leechburg softball chases 33rd straight playoff spot

By: George Guido
Saturday, March 16, 2019 | 10:41 PM

The Leechburg softball program has been soaring for more than 30 seasons.

But senior catcher Kristen Knapp will be doing her own sort of soaring in the fall as she has enlisted in the Air Force.

First, however, Knapp and her teammates will try to extend Leechburg’s WPIAL record streak of 32 consecutive seasons in the WPIAL softball playoffs.

“We’re ready to go, everyone’s super-pumped,” Knapp said as the Blue Devils were set to scrimmage Armstrong on Thursday. “For being a small school, it’s amazing and it’s a great experience to carry on our tradition for so long.”

Fifth-year coach Debbie Young sees things the same way.

“Same goals, nothing changes,” Young said. “Obviously it’s to win our section and then get in the playoffs and make it to the final.”

The Blue Devils have won their section the past two seasons but lost in the semifinal round. Leechburg also has lost the PIAA qualifier game the last two years by one run each time.

Said Young: “It just seems to be we can’t make it to that final playoff spot. We can’t explain it. It seems like a curse. We can’t make it past that consolation game.”

Leechburg lost three starters from last year’s team that went 11-1 in the section and 13-6 overall. Some positions will be decided over the team’s final two scrimmages before the season begins Friday at home against Serra Catholic in an exhibition game.

“Second base is open, third base is open right now and first base is open,” Young said.

Leechburg will be without first baseman/pitcher Gracie Reinke while she recovers from ankle surgery. The team hopes she will be back in time for the section opener April 4 at The Ellis School.

Other teams in the section will be Springdale, St. Joseph, Geibel and Greensburg Central Catholic.

Senior Aubry Skeel and freshman Tatum Verner also will see action at first.

Emma Ritchie will start the season pitching, and Knapp, the rare, left-handed catcher, also will see action from the circle.

Gone is Morgan Pierce, who pitched the last four seasons for Leechburg.

“Since my best friend, Morgan, graduated, Emma is a really good pitcher. But when she needs a break, I’ll be pitching,” Knapp said. “My tournament team wanted me to pitch last summer. I hadn’t pitched in two years.”

Said Young: “(Knapp) does everything. She pitched all summer long, and her mother, coincidentally, posted her on Facebook Live. So I watched it all summer, and she pitched well. She looks really good, and it’s nice to have that left-handed option.”

Knapp hasn’t received her orders as to where to report for basic training, but she’s hoping for a long playoff run first.

Among the returnees are McKenna Pierce at shortstop, Olivia Shimer in center field and Kiera Jones in left field.

Sky Raybush and Ashley Weaver will battle in right field, and Kelsi Spiering or Madison Hanan will be at second.


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