Pine-Richland softball team looks to contend in new-look WPIAL Class 6A

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Saturday, March 23, 2019 | 9:14 AM


With a solid group of experienced players returning, the Pine-Richland softball team enters the 2019 season with an eye on extending its streak of three consecutive winning seasons.

The Rams, however, do not plan to rest on their laurels as WPIAL Class 6A has been adjusted from three sections to two. As a result, the team will do battle in Section 2 with softball heavyweight Hempfield, in addition to the typically strong North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and North Hills programs.

For coach Gary Shepard, the way to improve as a group and up their compete level is to take the team’s talent and focus on buckling down on the details, starting with defense.

“I always preach pitching and defense, and our defense had some moments last year. I’ve really been on that, first and foremost. I think the hitting will come, and I want to make sure our pitchers continue work ahead and hit their spots,” Shepard said.

“But we have to cut down on those big innings, where we give the other team an extra out and then four runs come across because of it. That’s where we end up in the hole.”

An all-senior outfield should carry solid expectations in the field, with all-section performer Alyssa Miller manning center field in between Morgan Hall in right field and Kait Horrell in left.

Horrell, whose sister Brie plays at Pitt, is a two-time all-section honoree and batted .500 with 16 RBIs last season. Another senior, Ally Tomicek, will come off the bench as the team’s fourth outfielder.

The team’s infield is breaking in a newer glove at first base with sophomore Leah Hartzberg penciled in to receive her first long look at varsity action. Returning starters Tori May (second base), Joslyn Hostetler (shortstop) and Bailey Devinney (third base) add a solid degree of consistency to the group.

Meanwhile, the team’s battery returns two players who have seen considerable time at the varsity level for two-plus seasons in senior pitcher Cameron Devinney and senior catcher Julia Simpson.

Shepard also said he is looking forward to seeing what freshmen Gabriella Aughton and Ella Kasperowicz are capable of, with Aughton chipping in at pitcher and Kasperowicz providing backup at middle infield.

One aspect of the team that already appears to be a strength is their ability to produce runs. Last year, the Rams churned out 9-plus runs in eight of their 17 regular-season games. That same output seems possible as Shepard continues to preach his hitting philosophy that emphasizes wearing opponents down.

“We more concentrate on contact point rather than launch angle, which is the big thing in baseball and softball right now,” Shepard said.

“Everyone wants to get underneath the ball and drive it out of the park. But I’m more concerned with making contact and where your proper contact point is. Drive the ball, and let the flight of the ball take care of itself. I want us to go to the plate and have good, long at-bats, be aggressive, put the ball in play, drive it and challenge other teams.”

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