Sophomore standouts help Westmoreland softball teams reach state quarterfinals

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 | 8:28 PM

Hempfield, Penn-Trafford and Mt. Pleasant have more in common this softball season than section titles and postseason runs that have stretched into the PIAA quarterfinals.

One-third of each team’s lineup is made up of sophomores.

It’s a youth movement for the local softball scene paced by the Class of 2021.

Sophomoric no longer has a negative connotation for this group.

Younger players used to have to wait their turn to take their place in the top-tier programs, but some of the best players in the area are contributing now — and they still have two years left at the high school level.

“All of these sophomores are dedicated to the sport of softball,” Mt. Pleasant first-year coach Chris Brunson said. “They set the tone for the program with their work ethic and attitude.”

Hempfield (17-6), gunning for its fourth straight PIAA title after a WPIAL five-peat, features an all-sophomore battery in pitcher Callie Sowers and catcher Emma Hoffner.

Sowers is 17-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 173 strikeouts. Hoffner, a Division I prospect, is hitting a team-best .527 with 39 hits and 27 RBIs.

Left fielder Kelsi Terzolino, another 10th-grader, has had a key impact on the Spartans’ latest run and will help lead the team into Thursday’s quarterfinal against McDowell (18-5) at noon at North Allegheny.

She had the game-winning hit in a 2-1 victory in the WPIAL first round against Baldwin and just went 3 for 4 with three runs and an RBI in Monday’s 13-3, six-inning victory over Chambersburg in the PIAA Class 6A first round as the Spartans moved into the quarters for the fifth straight year.

Hempfield had 18 hits in its most recent win.

“We only have four sophomores on the team, and they all are contributors,” longtime coach Bob Kalp said. “Hoffner and Sowers, I feel, make one of the best batteries in the WPIAL and only will get better.”

Terzolino, who has just four strikeouts in 44 at-bats, has made the most of five consecutive starts, four in the playoffs.

“Terzolino has made some nice defensive plays and provides some stability for the bottom of our order,” Kalp said. “She puts the ball in play.”

A fourth key sophomore for Hempfield is Erica Orner, the go-to courtesy runner who has played in all 23 games.

Mt. Pleasant (18-1), which fell short in the WPIAL Class 4A final to Elizabeth Forward, rebounded nicely with a 9-4 win over Bellefonte in the PIAA first round, pounding out 13 hits. Sophomores Haylie Brunson and Mary Smithnosky each had three hits in that game and continue to play ahead of their years — joining two additional sophomore starters for the Vikings, who play James Buchanan (16-7) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Aloysius College in Cresson.

Smithnosky, an outfielder, leads the team with a .536 average and 37 hits. Third baseman Brunson has a .368 average with a team-best four home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 runs.

Leadoff hitter and shortstop Hannah Gnibus, meanwhile, leads the Vikings in runs and RBIs with 16 apiece, while catcher Lexi Shawley is hitting .268 with 13 RBIs.

Courtney Poulich, another sophomore, played just three games after injuring her left hamstring. A power-hitting corner infielder, Poulich is a Liberty commit.

And a sophomore trio also helps power Penn-Trafford (20-2), which is having one of its best seasons. The Warriors, who will face WPIAL champion West Allegheny (13-7) at 5 p.m. Thursday at Peters Township, chalked up their first state playoff win since 1990 with a 13-5 victory over Central Mountain in the PIAA Class 5A first round.

In that game, center fielder Brooke Cleland came through again with three hits and two RBIs to pace a 15-hit attack.

Other key 10th-grade players are right fielder Emma Little and designated player Allie Prady.

Cleland, Little and Prady bat third, fifth and sixth in the Warriors’ order.

“All three have played key roles at different times during the season,” Penn-Trafford coach Denny Little said. “Brooke has just plain raked, and Allie and Emma just keep on doing their jobs tremendously at the plate.”

Cleland is hitting .515 with 37 hits, seven of them home runs, 27 RBIs and 24 runs. A mark of her big-swinging ability: She has struck out twice on 80 at-bats.

Emma Little is hitting .385 with 22 RBIs and 17 runs, while Prady has a dozen runs and as many RBIs.

Hoffner said the abundance of talent in the sophomore class is part of the travel ball effect.

“My class had a lot of exposure with travel ball,” she said. “The level of competition has increased over the years and travel ball has allowed us to play year round and against higher levels of competition in other states. Also, coming into to such successful programs, we all are held to a higher standard. The expectations within our program are set high, and we don’t want to be the class that fails to meet those expectations.”

Haylie Brunson also said the sophomore spike is a reflection of the travel circuit.

“I remember there being like four really good travel teams when we were 10 and 11,” she said. “We all either played with or against each other in the local tournaments. I think this really pushed our class as a whole.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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