Stock rising for Thomas Jefferson softball after playoff season

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Sunday, June 25, 2023 | 10:45 AM


Thomas Jefferson’s softball team won five of its final six regular season games to clinch a WPIAL Class 5A playoff berth this spring.

The TJ girls opened the season by winning eight of their first nine games, including their first four section contests.

“We performed very well this year,” coach Heidi Karcher said. “Offensively, we had a great season with batting averages well above expectations. However, in our final game, our bats were sluggish.

“Our pitching was much more consistent in the playoffs as opposed to the beginning of the season when our walk-to-strikeout ratio was off balance.”

The Jaguars finished second in Section 4-5A with a 7-3 record, three games behind Trinity (10-0), and were 14-6 overall. Trinity went on to win the WPIAL Class 5A title.

“We started off strong,” Karcher, “but our bats seemed to simmer down, so we worked on bringing our bats back to life. We were a young team.”

Thomas Jefferson landed the No. 8 seed for the playoffs and beat No. 9 Plum, 8-6, in the first round before losing to top-seeded Armstrong, 5-3, in the quarterfinals.

Five TJ players were selected all-section with first-team honors going to junior center fielder Zoe Krizan and sophomore second baseman Morgan Alisesky.

Krizan, a three-year starter, played on the left side of the diamond at shortstop and third base as a freshman and sophomore.

“I think my season went very well and I am very happy with it,” she said. ”I was moved to third base in the very beginning of my sophomore season and ended up getting injured. I broke and dislocated two fingers and needed surgery on one of them.

“This year, I was moved to center field and loved being out there.”

Krizan hit .417 and led the club in RBIs with 34. She also belted a team-leading six home runs.

“I think the team did very well this year. When someone was down, someone else picked them up,” Krizan said. “I would say our bats were strong this year, and we really kept our consistency. Our gloves were great the whole season.

“We had a couple bumps here and there, but we just kept fighting through it and never lost the fight. Everyone contributed in some way, whether they played, were a designated hitter, a baserunner or just cheered and helped out. Although our season ended in the second round of playoffs, we played well and I am very proud.”

Alisesky batted .395 and led the Jaguars in runs scored with 27.

Both girls were threats to score any time they reached the base paths. They were two of the WPIAL’s better base stealers.

“I think we had a pretty good season,” Alisesky said. “Our bats really helped us throughout the year and our defense was also a really big part in that. Even though we didn’t win our section, I still believe we made a good run in both the playoffs and section.

“This was the season I wanted to show off all my ability. Last year, I didn’t play to my full potential, and I really wanted to prove myself this year, and I think I did just that.”

As a freshman, Alisesky played left field and batted in the leadoff spot.

Senior pitcher Kendall Pielin and sophomore first baseman Ali Chalovich, who belted five home runs in 2023, were second-team all-section selections for TJ.

Pielin tossed 2,210 pitches in 121 innings of work and struck out 136 batters. She also posted a 2.95 ERA.

“I think my team had exponential potential,” Pielin said. “We held the No. 1 seed to one of their lowest scoring and closest games of this season. And some of our only losses played in the 5A WPIAL championship. There is not a doubt in my mind that we could have been contenders for that game.

“To me, the strength of a WPIAL team is not measured solely by star athletes but rather by a team dynamic. This season, we were challenged on our durability as we would start strong and gain unwavering confidence, but we struggled to continue this into later innings. We have an overwhelmingly average skill set as we are not fostering D1 commits year after year, but when our offense and defense align, we became seemingly unstoppable. I was proud of our overall performance this year.”

TJ’s final section all-star was sophomore shortstop Olivia Stock, who received honorable mention status. Stock was the team leader with a .429 batting average.

The Jaguars’ starting lineup consisted of freshman left fielder Addi Bracco, Alisesky, Krizan, Chalovich, sophomore DH Alayna Grese or junior DH Hannah Cairns, Stock, junior third baseman Emma Desimone, junior catcher Taylor Karpac, Pielin and senior right fielder Jadyn Davis.

Krizan and Chalovich tied for the team lead in hits with 30 apiece.

Pielin, Davis and reserve first baseman Carmen Maglicco were the only seniors on this year’s club.

“We had high expectations at the beginning of this season,” Pielin said. “Our school is not often a name in the headlines for softball, but with sections changing, we saw movement as an opportunity to make our mark. We were optimistic about playing new teams and sought great opportunity in new opponents. We aimed to win our section but did fall short to Trinity.

“In the end, I left TJ softball happy with my performance. I have been a varsity starter the last two years, returning halfway through my junior year from an ACL tear. Through my injury, I developed a difficult relationship with softball mentally and let my team down a lot last year. But this year, I overcame this barrier and became the leader my team needed on the mound.”

Pielin said she won’t soon forget the playoff loss to Armstrong.

“I enjoyed the game one last time as a TJ Jaguar, but it was devastating,” she said. “I had never felt a team being more confident and sure of itself. We started off the game great, putting up three in the first inning. I truly felt I laid it all out on the line; it was the epitome of what it meant to be an athlete.

“It was bittersweet, but it is a game I will never forget.

The Jaguars’ lineup in 2023 consisted of two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman.

“I definitely think we expected to win our section,” said Krizan. “We have a lot of talented players and knew we could use it to our advantage. Our two losses to Trinity did not help, although our loss to USC seemed to be what hurt us the most when considering playoff seedings. Overall, we expected a great season, and I think we definitely achieved that.

“My biggest takeaways from this season are that anything can happen and to never doubt yourself. Anytime I failed, I came back and succeeded. I didn’t let failure define me. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day. You just have to believe and stay focused.”

The Jaguars’ season truly ended on a sad note.

Longtime TJ coach John “Hoppy” Mitruski died unexpectedly two days after the playoff loss to Armstrong.

“Hoppy put forth his best effort at all times,” Krizan said. “He had the biggest heart, and he believed in each and every one of his players. His positive attitude was unstoppable. He always told us, ‘You can’t coach effort,’ or ‘You can’t coach heart,’ and that will never be forgotten.”

Alisesky said Mitruski made a lasting impression at TJ.

“Hoppy taught me so much in my two years of high school, and it’s hard to not be able to have him (coaching) my next two years of softball,” Alisesky said. “He made me realize there is always hope, and he was so right. He taught me to never give up and had a major impact on me not only toward softball but in my life lessons.”

Pielin said Mitruski was a positive influence in the entire TJ softball program.

“Hoppy was an amazing man who brought so much to our program,” Pielin said. “He had more heart than anyone I’ve had the privilege to share the field with.

“I will never forget the moment we won the Plum game this season. My teammate ‘Z’ (Krizan) hit a grand slam, and Hoppy was beyond proud, but he thought we had to play another inning. He was relieved when I hugged him and told him to line it up.”

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