Pine-Richland softball gearing season toward section race

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Sunday, March 21, 2021 | 10:01 AM


Pine-Richland softball coach Gary Shepard feels he has the right mix of returning players and newcomers to field a competitive team this spring.

And he will have some time to see how the lineup will shake out.

Because of a smaller-than-usual section of only six teams, the Rams will have five nonsection games to begin the season.

It will be a spring training of sorts for the Rams in their return after the 2019 season was canceled because of the covid-19 pandemic.

“That’ll give us a chance to get a look at a lot of different players,” Shepard said. “Not that we don’t want to win nonsection games, but the section games determine whether or not we go to the playoffs. We don’t normally have an opportunity like this. We have an open competition in a lot of positions.

“From two years ago, we’re replacing our entire outfield, our second baseman, our shortstop and catcher. I told the kids that we’re not really going to decide who plays where or who’s playing varsity or JV until we get closer to April 9, which is our first section game.”

One key returning player is junior pitcher and Boston College commit Gabbie Aughton. Shepard said other pitchers will have opportunities, but they will be counting on Aughton to be the team’s ace.

“She would’ve missed last year had we played due to injury, so it’s good to have her back,” Shepard said. “As long as she stays healthy, we expect big things from her this year.”

Leah Hartzberg is a returning starter at first base, and, along with Tori May, is a team captain. May has battled through injuries and will be in the mix for the starting second base job. Alexia Brown was a designated hitter her freshman season and will move to catcher this spring. The Rams also have 10 freshmen.

Hartzberg and May are two of six seniors on the team, and Shepard is hopeful of sending them off with a memorable season after the disappointment of not playing last year.

“They did not go on our Florida trip as freshman, and they missed it last year, because of covid,” Shepard said. “They weren’t able to go to Florida at all, so we’re hoping we can have a good senior year for them, because they missed out on some of the fun things we usually do.”

Pine-Richland will be in Section 2 with Hempfield, North Allegheny, Norwin, Butler and Seneca Valley. There are 11 teams in Class 6A, and the top four teams from each section will make the playoffs.

Hempfield has won the last five WPIAL titles in the districts’ largest classification and every Class 6A title.

“I know traditionally Hempfield and North Allegheny are always really good,” Shepard said. “Norwin was really good two years ago, and Seneca Valley is pretty consistent. It’ll be competitive, but if we play our game, I think we’ll be right up there. If we pitch well and play defense, we have a good group of returning players and some new contributors that will help out as well.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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