Pine-Richland softball program builds on playoff victory

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Sunday, June 13, 2021 | 11:01 AM


With a 6-1 win over Mt. Lebanon in the quarterfinals, the Pine-Richland softball team scored a historic achievement.

For the first time in nearly two decades the Rams could say they were a winner in the postseason.

It was the cherry on top in a season that featured some memorable moments for a group that has its sights set on continuing to elevate the program.

“It really meant a lot to everybody, but especially our six seniors,” Pine-Richland softball coach Gary Shepard said of the playoff win. “Losing last season due to covid gave it some extra meaning. Hopefully, it will help them individually and boost the program in the years to come. For the younger players in middle school or elementary school they can see that and understand that things are looking up.”

The Rams got the jump on the Blue Devils with two runs in the first inning and added on from there. In the semifinals they loaded the bases in the first inning, but didn’t plate a run before falling 9-0 to eventual WPIAL champion Bethel Park.

Pine-Richland finished 9-9 overall and 6-4 in Section 2-6A.

The six seniors — Leah Hartzberg, Anna Heckman, Marley Hoffman, Madeline Jewart, Victoria May and Arianna Trichel — were the most on one team in Shepard’s five seasons.

Hartzberg and Heckman were named to the all-section team. Junior pitcher Gabriella Aughton also was an all-section honoree.

Hartzberg led the team in batting average and home runs. Heckman played through a hip injury all season as the Rams’ designated player.

“Leah Hartzberg was a captain this year and had a lot of big hits for us during the course of the season,” Shepard said. “You could count on her for a solid at-bat every time. It was tough for Anna to play defensively with her injury, but she stuck it out and hit well. She never complained once about it. Our other seniors contributed in different ways as well. They weren’t all starters, but they all made an impact.”

Shepard said it will be difficult to replace Hartzberg and Heckman, but there’s a large group of key contributors returning.

That starts with Aughton, who along with catcher Alexia Brown form a formidable battery.

Brown and fellow junior Natalie Zentz were honorable mentions on the all-section list.

Aughton, a junior Boston College commit, allowed opponents to a run or less seven times with a pair of shutouts.

“She had a great year,” Shepard said. “She needs to continue to work on changing speeds more consistently. When you have hitters that are as good as the ones in our section and you make a mistake on a curve ball you’re going to get hurt. If you have that ability to change speeds and keep hitters guessing that’s going to make you even more effective.”

The Rams also had three freshmen in Mackenzie Gillis, Jocelyn Langer and Marissa DeLuca who saw significant playing time. Gillis hit a two-run homer in a 2-0 extra inning win over perennial power Hempfield.

They will be a major part of keeping the success rolling into the future.

“It’s not easy for freshmen to contribute right away and Gills, Langer and DeLuca were able to do that,” said Shepard, who was named the Section 2-6A coach of the year. “They weren’t always consistent throughout the year, but they all showed signs that they are going to be special players over the next three years.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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