New coach, same goals for Apollo-Ridge softball

Friday, March 11, 2022 | 6:59 PM

The Apollo-Ridge softball team has a new coach but the same goal.

Eric Kowalczyk has taken over for John Kinnamon, who now is coaching at Kiski Area. Kowalczyk previously served as JV coach for two years.

“I’m not just teaching the girls softball,” Kowalczyk said. “I always try to teach my players a work ethic that they can carry on in life. Things are not given. They must be earned.”

The Vikings advanced to the WPIAL playoffs the past four years, and returning to the postseason is a goal for 2022. A-R used the combination of effective pitching and strong hitting as a recipe for success in 2021.

“We want to make it to the playoffs again,” Kowalczyk said. “And to be efficient with minimal errors.”

Apollo-Ridge ended up second with a 7-4 record in Section 2-2A, won by No. 1 playoff seed Ligonier Valley with an 11-0 mark. LV racked up a 22-3 record a year ago, advancing to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA championship game.

A-R outfought Serra Catholic (6-4), Steel Valley (6-6), Brentwood (5-7) and Seton LaSalle (5-7) for the runner-up spot in the section. The Vikings have finished second, third, third and second in section play the past four years.

“We have a very young team with only one senior and six freshmen,” said Kowalczyk, who coached in the ASA program for 10 years and assisted with travel softball for three years. “We’ve been working on teamwork, teaching the girls to be multi-positional players and focusing on outhitting our opponents.”

The lone senior is Bailey Zidek, who anchors the infield from her shortstop position.

“I expect the team to do pretty well this year,” Zidek said. “We have a lot of freshmen that joined this year, some that have played, some that haven’t. I think by the first couple of games, we will all click. For us, our main goal is to just play each game well. Focus on one game at a time.

“A personal goal of mine is to have my senior season be one to remember.”

Zidek started playing softball when she was 10 years old. She is a fourth-year varsity member and third-year starter at shortstop (the 2020 season was eliminated because of covid protocols).

She has a sparkling 4.0 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society, LEO Club and the Gama Storm travel team.

Zidek will continue her softball career at Pitt-Bradford, where she will study forensics. She committed in November.

The Vikings may be young this spring, but they appear to be talented with eight returning starters.

Along with Zidek, starters back from last year are juniors April Earnest (P/utility) and Sydney Osan (OF), and sophomores Camdyn Kowalczyk (C/utility), Malea Venziani (OF), Makenna Syster (1B/3B), Jaden Mull (OF) and Marly Koleno (OF).

One of Zidek’s most impressive offensive performances last season came in a 11-3 section win April 22 against Seton LaSalle. Zidek went 4 for 4 with two doubles, a triple, a home run and four RBIs.

Apollo-Ridge logged another big section win, 11-4 over Serra Catholic, on April 19 as Camdyn Kowalczyk had a breakout game from the leadoff spot. The catcher went 2 for 4 with a home run and five RBIs.

Earnest, expected to assume the role as A-R’s No. 1 hurler, also collected four RBIs in a 17-2 victory April 16 against Brentwood.

A-R was seeded 11th for last year’s WPIAL playoffs and lost a 12-2 decision to No. 6 Chartiers-Houston in the first round. The Vikings finished 7-5-1 and outscored the opposition 103-51 in the regular season.

Earnest, Zidek and Kowalczyk ranked at or near the top of several offensive categories a year ago.


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