Looking ahead important for softball teams needing to replace standout pitchers

Monday, April 8, 2019 | 8:24 PM

Even before Leechburg’s Morgan Pierce, a four-year starter in the circle, graduated, plans were in place to find her successor.

Enter sophomore Emma Ritchie, who has taken the pitching reins for the Blue Devils as they seek a 33rd straight playoff appearance. Ritchie, who pitched mostly in junior varsity games last year, said she has settled into the increased role.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking at times thinking about trying to live up to what Morgan had done,” she said. “Now that I have a few games in, I’m feeling pretty comfortable. My teammates have been really supportive, and if I slip, they’re always there to back me up.”

Ritchie’s role is similar to a number of softball teams around the Alle-Kiski Valley and the WPIAL. Decisions often are more proactive in determining the right person who will attempt to keep a program pointed in the right direction.

“I had known about Emma for quite a while and knew that she would be pitching at some point,” Leechburg coach Debbie Young said. “I watched her career in travel ball and rec ball. It’s about talking to people, seeing who’s coming up and finding the right fit for each of them.”

Ritchie fired a no-hitter in her first start this season, striking out nine over five innings in a 10-0 victory over Jeannette on March 26.

She scattered four hits and fanned six while knocking in three runs in an 11-1, five-inning triumph over Northgate on April 2. She allowed one hit over five innings in an 11-1 win over Greensburg Central Catholic the next day.

The Blue Devils were 4-0 overall and 3-0 in Section 3-1A through a 23-0 rout of Ellis School last Thursday.

“Emma’s a pretty laidback kid,” Young said. “She did realize at the start of the season just how much was on her shoulders, and she now understands the responsibility.”

At Burrell, sophomore Kyle Karns and freshman Caroline Dynka have shared pitching responsibilities after the graduation of standout Brittany Dunn.

“At the beginning of the season, and even before practices started, they brought it up to us that we were going to have to work as hard as we could and show our love of the game to fill that spot,” Karns said. “Brittany was such an amazing pitcher.”

Karns said she and Dynka push each other to improve. Burrell was 2-2 overall and 1-1 in Section 1-3A heading into Monday’s section matchup at Derry.

Dynka surrendered two hits and struck out seven last Thursday as Burrell shut out East Allegheny 11-0 to snap a two-game losing skid.

“We understand we will be called on for different games and situations, and we have to be ready,” Karns said.

Karns said she appreciated the opportunity to start the game against rival Freeport last week. The defending section champion Yellowjackets rallied to top the Bucs, 7-4.

“Caroline and I know we still have things to work on such as speed and hitting our spots,” she said, “and game experience is really a benefit to that.”

Last spring, Carys Kenny-Howell, now on the freshman softball team at Simon Fraser, logged 65 1/3 innings for Riverview and helped the Raiders reach the WPIAL quarterfinals. The first-team Valley News Dispatch all-star also hit .468 with 19 RBIs.

Junior Alyssa Cappa split time at catcher and pitcher in 2018 with the knowledge she most likely would move into a full-time pitching role.

She struck out 17 — tying the school record — in a 10-7 walkoff win over Valley on March 28. She surrendered six hits, and several of the seven runs were unearned.

She dueled Vincentian pitcher Elizabeth Arnold last Wednesday. The two combined to give up six hits, and Cappa struck out 11 as the Royals pulled out a 3-1 victory.

Cappa again is a force at the plate after she hit .458 with 14 extra-base hits, including four home runs, last season. She has a pair of home runs this spring.

“I knew that I would be counted on to be our main pitcher this season,” Cappa said. “It was good to be able to pitch with Carys last year. I will play any position, pitcher, catcher or shortstop, and give it my all. It’s about doing what I can to help the team win.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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