Pine-Richland softball hopes for strong run in first playoff appearance in four years
By: Kevin Lohman
Friday, May 11, 2018 | 11:10 PM
The third time ended up being the charm for the Pine-Richland softball team. The Rams finished the season with a winning record for the third year in a row and collected a third-place finish in Section 3-6A, clinching their first WPIAL postseason appearance since 2013.
Despite its recent successes in the regular season, Pine-Richland (10-7, 6-4) had a knack for being on the outside looking in when it came to the WPIAL playoffs the past few years. This year, however, the No. 7-seeded Rams bucked the trend. They were to play Mt. Lebanon in the first round Tuesday, after deadline for this edition.
The accomplishment hasn't been lost on coach Gary Shepard, who said he is happiest for his two seniors who will get to play in their first WPIAL Class 6A playoff games after narrowly missing out on the opportunity the past few seasons.
“I've got two seniors in Anna Slebonick and Jackie Hansen that have worked hard over the last few years here,” Shepard said, “so it's awesome to see them get to the playoffs in their senior year.
“Plus, those two, along with our other captain, Kait Horrell, ended up being our top players. They batted three, four, five in the batting order for us and really helped carry the load throughout the season.”
Slebonick, Hansen and Horrell have delivered all season and figure to be a main strength for the team moving forward.
Playing first base and batting cleanup, Hansen has hit .491 with a team-leading 26 hits and 18 RBIs. In the five spot, Horrell is hitting .500 with 16 RBIs. In similar fashion, Slebonick put up big numbers despite a thumb injury.
“Anna Slebonick, she's hitting .580 this season, but what's really great is that I challenged her because she only had two extra-base hits last year out of her 20 hits,” Shepard said. “This year, she answered the challenge with 29 hits, 12 of which were extra-base hits.”
“She went from nine RBIs last year in the three spot to 19 RBIs this year in the three spot. That's just been huge for her and for us, as a team.”
Pitcher Cameron Devinney has helped the offense as well, posting a team-high three home runs and collecting 17 RBIs.
The middle-of-the-order bats have done plenty to help Pine-Richland reach the playoffs. They might be able to outscore opponents, but Shepard said he would be more comfortable playing a composed, mistake-free game.
“Sometimes we get into innings where we throw the ball around and all of a sudden, it's 4-0,” Shepard said. “You might be able to come back from that deficit in the regular season, but in the playoffs, it's not easy against a good team.
“I'm not too concerned about our hitting. I think we're going to hit. It's just pitching and defense. We need to lock it down and be solid. If we do those two things well, I think we'll be good.”
Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.