Senior Spotlight: Possible golden softball season lost for Upper St. Clair infielder, classmates

Thursday, April 30, 2020 | 1:20 PM

Editor’s note: Each day, Trib HSSN will spotlight WPIAL spring athletes whose senior years were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

They weren’t the Fab Five, but in the spring of 2017, you could refer to Zoe Malone, Paige Stevenson, Alex Wunderlich, Haley Beardley, Danielle Orendi and Grace Swigart as the Sensational Six for Upper St. Clair.

They all played their freshman season as the team struggled to a 3-13 record. That modest win total actually marked the most wins for the Panthers since 2012 and capped a four-year span in which USC won only 10 games total.

But the nucleus was there in a 4-3 start to the 2018 season before the super sophomores hit a wall and the team lost its last 11 games.

Things were different last spring, however, as Upper St. Clair finished 13-7 and earned the Panthers’ first playoff berths in two decades.

The table was set for a serious run at a softball championship in a season that never happened.

For her part, Malone was a force in the batter’s box on offense and at her infield position on defense.

Malone batted .518 with 14 RBIs, 25 runs scored, five doubles, three triples and a home run. She had a .609 on-base percentage and a .768 slugging percentage all while playing a stellar second base.

Malone will continue her education and softball career at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

When did it really hit you that your Panthers career was over?

I was with one of my really good friends who plays on my travel team when I found out. She actually was the one who broke the news to me. It was kind of ironic because on our way there, my dad and I had been talking about how school had been canceled, but we were holding onto hope for the season because the PIAA hadn’t said anything yet. It finally hit me when I returned home later that night and I saw my uniform hanging on my bedroom door. I looked at it and realized I may never put it on again. I was getting a lot of messages from my fellow seniors who have been with me a large portion of my softball career and we were all just devastated.

What have you been doing to stay in shape?

I personally love going to the gym and working out. I’m more of a loner when it comes to that. I like going by myself and blasting my music. Since the gyms closed, I took to social media to find some workouts. I have been doing a workout in some form or fashion almost every day. I also love going on hikes. The woods are kind of the only place I can go on a regular basis, so I’ll take my dogs and we will go for a hike.

Have you been able to do anything softball related in an effort to stay sharp since all activities were shut down?

Since my dad coaches my travel team, we have access to our practice facility, so when the weather isn’t good, we will go and hit there. I was fortunate to find a secluded baseball field recently so I have been going and hitting there as well. I personally like hitting outdoors more. It’s just a quirk I have about me. I have also been in contact with my college coach, who has offered some things for me to work on as I prepare to play college softball.

Do you miss going to school?

I miss more of the academic aspect rather than the social. I know it’s crazy, a high school senior who loves doing schoolwork. It’s true. As a senior, I had pick the of the litter when it came to classes, so I am currently taking a lot of classes I really enjoy.

Has it been tough to focus on school work at home or is it easier?

It’s been way easier for me. The transition for me was easy because Upper St. Clair has done a lot of work online in the past. I prefer online school because I can work at my own pace and it allows me to finish almost a week’s worth of work in just a day, even if I have to commit a chunk of my day to it.

With all the things that go on for graduating seniors in the final three months of high school, what has been the most painful to miss out on outside of softball?

I miss going to Bob’s Diner the most. Some of my teammates and I made it a little tradition to go to Bob’s sometimes after practice. It was always a nice way to relax and just bond with each other.

We’ll never know, but how good do you think USC would have been this spring after returning most of your players from a successful 2019 season?

I think this team would have been the best Upper St. Clair has ever seen. I take a lot of pride in knowing that my class was a huge part of that. As I mentioned before, I have played with these girls for six or seven years. I have watched each of them grow as people and as softball players. These girls were always pushing themselves to get better, because we all knew that if we were to have success, it would start with us. At one point, we were all playing for the same travel organization, and I give a lot of credit to our respective coaches for developing us into the players we became. However, the potential success would not have just fallen on just the seniors. The success we were bound to have would have been a complete team effort. They don’t get enough nearly enough credit, but our JV team is like our driving force. They come and work their butts off at every single practice, never complain. They are our biggest support system. Last year during our Bethel Park game at home, any time someone got a hit or made a play, those girls would go insane. I know for me personally, that was a huge motivator. And they are the most hilarious group of girls ever. This team is like a family, and I credit a lot of our success to that. We aren’t composed of multiple Division I commits and not all of our girls play for big-name travel organizations. But there is a sense of togetherness and sisterhood that some teams don’t have. It’s a different feel when you are playing for the girl next to you.

What are the strengths of your game and what do you have to work on?

I believe one of my biggest strengths is not being afraid to ask questions. Ask any of my coaches. I am always asking questions about something softball related. I consider myself a very intelligent and softball smart player and by asking a lot of questions, I can learn more about the little details that will take me to the next level. Fundamentals are another part of my game that I take pride in. We work a lot on fundamentals at our travel practices, but it is necessary. You need a foundation before you can build a house.

As for something I have to work on, I always feel that you can improve on any aspect of your game. One big area for me is not being afraid to just let loose. I can sometimes be tentative when I am playing in the field when it comes to diving or going after tough fly balls. I often think too much and am worried I am going to miss the ball. I want to become more comfortable when it comes to going all out. I noticed when I watched Oshkosh play for the first time that each player dove for everything. Even if they knew they may not catch the ball, they still went all out. I also tend to think a lot in the batter’s box, which you can’t do against pitchers who throw 65 mph and have really good curveballs. I have always hit my best when I don’t think.

I’ve been told you have an interesting recruiting story?

I do. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the biggest college football fan on the face of the planet. My favorite team is the University of Michigan Wolverines. When I began my recruiting process, obviously I wanted to play for Michigan. Every little girl has a dream of playing on the biggest stage in college softball. However, I became more realistic with my goals and found a branch campus of Michigan. Not long after that, I went up for a campus visit and camp. I was blinded by the block ‘M’ to really understand that, although this was my dream school, it was not the best fit.

My dad urged me to keep my recruiting process open. At this time I had an offer from Michigan, but had yet to take it. One day, my mom came home from work and told me she had talked to someone who knew someone who went to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. We did further research on the school and I knew deep down it was a better fit than Michigan. It has the No. 1 nursing program in Wisconsin. It is in the Midwest. Something I didn’t mention earlier was that I am in love with the Midwest and I knew I wanted to end up there. My uncle lives near Green Bay and works for the Packers.

So, not long after I found out about Oshkosh, I emailed the coach and was on my way to a campus visit and a camp. When I got there, I fell in love almost instantly. The campus itself isn’t the biggest, but it has a big college feel. The players and coaches were extremely welcoming and I felt at home right away. Oshkosh takes its athletics very seriously and their facilities were amazing. As soon as you walk into their basketball court, there is a trophy case with their 47 national championship trophies.

A lot of people have a negative stereotype surrounding Division III athletics, that D-3 has poor programs and competition. Oshkosh breaks every single one of those stereotypes. Not to mention I have the ability to study whatever I want. If I had gone to a higher-level program, I basically am an athlete first and a student second. I didn’t want that for myself, because you can’t make a steady living playing softball professionally. Oshkosh allowed me to pursue my dream career of nurse anesthetist while still playing the sport I love.

After my trip was over, I knew that Oshkosh was my perfect fit. It had everything I could have wanted. I kept in contact with Coach all summer and in September of 2018, I made things official and committed. It was the best decision I have ever made.

What are you most excited about in looking ahead to next year and playing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh?

I know that in my time as Oshkosh, I will grow so much as a person and a softball player. Coach (Scott) Beyer is an amazing head coach and seems to have a brilliant softball mind. I am so excited to learn and grow through him, because I know I will. As for the girls, they are awesome. The atmosphere around them is the same as when I am with my travel team. All of their seniors from this year are returning and some may look at that as a negative. I see it as a huge positive. The senior class that Oshkosh has this year was extremely talented and I really want to get the most out of having them around my freshman season.

I know that they can offer a lot when it comes to softball. I can’t wait to create so many more relationships that will last me a lifetime. The incoming freshman class is composed of extremely talented players and even better people. I can’t wait to start this next journey with those girls. The Oshkosh softball program is not just a team, but they are a family. I am so excited to be a part of that family. To me, there is not one thing I don’t love about Oshkosh and their softball program. I am forever grateful that Coach Beyer took the chance on the girl from Pittsburgh, Pa.


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