Penn-Trafford softball eager to defend state title

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | 6:35 PM


Like every other high school team in the PIAA, Penn-Trafford is trying its best to stay patient and proactive during the coronavirus crisis.

But it hasn’t been easy.

The softball team can’t practice or gather during these unprecedented times.

Just the same, the Warriors are itching to swing their bats again at live pitching, and take to the diamond to try to defend their PIAA Class 5A championship.

All that pent-up frustration is a bad thing for opponents.

“Although it is disappointing, this pandemic is way bigger than softball,” coach Denny Little said. “We have to pray that the measures taken will help flatten the curve. With that being said, we have to prepare like some type of season will happen.”

The Warriors slugged their way to their first state title last season, finishing 23-2. With four key seniors gone, this year’s team — assuming it gets to play — is not all aflutter talking about winning another title.

“We told the girls on Day 1 of tryouts to take the word repeat out of their vocabulary,” said Little, who also works as a hitting coach for Seton Hill softball. “We will not use words like back-to-back, repeat, or defend. Simply put, it is time to regroup, renew and refocus. We have some different ingredients that will need to be up for a new challenge.”

Seven starters return, including two key pitchers and several power hitters.

“Last season was unforgettable for our team,” said junior Brooke Cleland, an all-state outfielder who hit .470 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs last season. “We have been approaching our 2020 season with a new mindset, but our expectations remain high with the same goals as last season: section title, WPIAL championship and a PIAA title. Not being able to step on the field this season would be devastating to all of us, especially our seniors. The covid-19 is impacting so many girls throughout the softball community. My hope would be that we can get back on the field this school year and do what we do best and compete.”

While the team’s forte has been hitting because of players like Cleland, Little said the pitching and defense will be the stitching that holds the team together.

Senior Morgan Hilty has been a starter since she was a freshman, and the Warriors have won 53 of 65 games she has pitched.

“She is a vicious competitor,” Little said of Hilty, who has committed to play at Mercyhurst.

Sophomore pitcher Mia Smith also returns after showing she could handle big-game pressure in the playoffs.

“The composure she (showed) as a young kid out there was the difference-maker,” Little said. “She sat down 18 batters in a row during the state playoffs.”

Other key players are seniors Jess Lichota and Alayna Conrad, and juniors Emma Little and Allie Prady.

Lichota, a third baseman and John Carroll commit, also has shown fence-clearing potential, while Conrad is one of the team’s top defensive players.

Emma Little was an all-section outfielder who batted close to .400 and drove in 22, and Prady was the leading hitter in the playoffs.

Others looking to contribute include sophomore Hanna Allen and seniors Bailey Perrin and Sami Schickel.

Coach Little also mentioned a talented freshman class coming up the ladder.

The Warriors will play on a revamped home field that now has a turf infield and a new backstop.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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