Leechburg softball team readies for run at 34th straight playoff berth
Sunday, March 15, 2020 | 4:47 PM
The coronavirus pandemic might do something other WPIAL softball teams have failed to do: stop Leechburg’s playoff streak.
The WPIAL will decide Monday afternoon what to do with the statewide school closure and whether to plan a spring sports season if virus threats diminish.
In the meantime, the Blue Devils are preparing to make a 34th consecutive WPIAL playoff run.
Not only does Leechburg want to extend the playoff streak, the Blue Devils would like to make a 10th WPIAL title-game appearance and a first under sixth-year coach Debbie Young.
Leechburg has made the semifinals the past three seasons, winning a PIAA qualifier game in the WPIAL consolation matchup with Jefferson-Morgan, 3-2.
“Last year was the furthest that we’ve gone,” Young said. “So that’s an accomplishment. But we want more, and we feel like we can do that. We’ve had a lot of conversations about that with these girls, and it’s another good group.”
Said senior Gracie Reinke: “I want to really get to the championship game. It’s my last year, and we’ve got cut short every year. Win or lose, I want to go to the championship. I will not be satisfied if we don’t go.”
The Blue Devils lost three starters from last season: Kiera Jones, Kristen Knapp and Aubrey Skeel, all of whom batted .434 or better for a team that went 12-0 in Section 3-A play, 17-3 overall.
The key replacement is at catcher, where Knapp was a Valley News Dispatch second-team all-star.
“We have a sophomore catcher, Bella Vozar, who has been waiting in the wings,” Young said. “She’s been working very hard and is very excited. Hopefully, she got some of the jitters out in a scrimmage the other day.”
Returning to first base is Reinke, whose junior season was limited to eight games, strictly as a designated hitter, after ankle surgery.
“My plan was to get the surgery and be able to play, but I didn’t realize how long the recovery was going to be,” Reinke said. “My ankle is a lot better than what it was before the surgery. It feels good to be back at first base.”
Skeel handled first base last season.
Ashley Weaver is set to take over in left field for the departed Jones.
Back in the circle is first-team Valley News Dispatch all-star Emma Ritchie.
“It was my first season as a (varsity) pitcher, and the playoffs were a whole different environment,” Ritchie said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was a good experience.”
Morgan Pierce, another VND first-teamer, is back at shortstop.
Kelsi Spiering is at second base, and Tatum Verner returns to third.
Young is looking for a spot in the lineup for promising freshman Anna Cibik. Karli Mazak and Falyn Verner are pushing for playing time.
Leechburg has 14 players and will not be able field a junior varsity team.
“We hope to get some competition in the section,” Young said. “Greensburg Central Catholic seems to be pretty confident in what they have, and Jeannette is the same way. I certainly don’t want to have a season where we’re running over people. We want to see in our season what we’ll see in playoffs.”
Some of that competition could come from a youthful Springdale team that finished second in the section standings to Leechburg last season.
The teams are scheduled to square off April 8 at Gilpin Park, pending coronavirus-related changes.
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