Thomas Jefferson softball learns from move up in classification

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Sunday, June 20, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson’s softball team moved up one classification — from 4A to 5A — in 2021, and seemed to pay for the price of admission.

The Jaguars’ section opponents consisted of Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Gateway, Latrobe and Penn-Trafford.

TJ qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for a fifth straight year, but the Jaguars ended up with an 8-6 record bolstered by a six-game midseason winning streak.

“It was a good season,” coach Heidi Karcher said. “The games that were lost (by TJ) were not by many runs, so that gives me hope. We’re not hitting as well as we should be with the talent we have on the team.

“I can’t really say what to expect for next year; that is a long way off.”

There were 10 freshmen, 10 sophomores, seven juniors and four seniors in the TJ softball program this spring.

The Jaguars’ lineup was led by four returning starters in 2021 — senior Lily Rockwell at first base and the entire outfield with senior Claire Whalen in center, senior Paige Truax in left and junior Graci Fairman in right. All four hit .300-or-better this spring, paced by Fairman with a .452 batting average and .806 slugging percentage.

Whalen chipped in with a .341 batting average and .537 slugging percentage, while Truax finished with marks of .333 and .643.

“I feel as a team we created a strong bond early on which caused us to be successful through the adversity and shutdowns of this covid-19 season,” Fairman said.

Fairman displayed her all-around athleticism by moving from the outfield to the shortstop position late in the season.

“I felt I was very versatile, going from outfield to infield depending on where I was needed,” Fairman said. “I also felt like I had a very important role in the lineup as the 3-hitter. I knew my role was to put the ball in play and move base runners.”

Fairman, one of the fastest players on the team, has maintained a 3.9 GPA. She also is a basketball standout and will be a fourth-year starter and team captain for the TJ hoopsters in 2021-22.

“I am excited about possibly having the opportunity to continue both basketball and softball in college,” Fairman said.

Whalen was a Big 56 Class 5A first-team all-section selection in Class 5A. Truax and Fairman were named to the second team.

Rockwell was next-in-line in the hitting department with a .324 batting average.

“Considering the young team we had, I think we did well this year,” Rockwell said. “We pulled together as the season progressed and the team got a lot closer. We became comfortable playing together and the games were fun no matter the outcome.”

Rockwell was a varsity starter in softball for four years, as well as a three-year starter in volleyball. She has a 4.04 GPA and plans to attend Ashland to continue her softball career and major in middle school education.

“Although my high school career was cut short because of covid (protocols), I value the time I spent as a TJ softball teammate so much,” Rockwell said. “The life lessons I have learned while being a part of this team have shaped me to be who I am today and will help me in the future as I leave for college.

“I’d like to thank my coaches and teammates for such a fun and memorable season.”

Others in the Jaguars lineup included sophomore pitcher Alyssa McCormick, juniors Savannah Mallozzi (3B) and Emma Stock (2B), and freshmen Zoe Krizan (SS) and Taylor Karpac (C). Sophomore Kendall Pielin and junior Brianna Kibe joined McCormick in the team’s pitching corps.

McCormick was named second team all-section; Karpac received honorable mention plaudits as a designated hitter.

“We are losing two starting outfielders,” Fairman said, “so we are going to have to fill in those positions, although we have a pitcher-catcher duo returning. We are going to have to work hard.”

Thomas Jefferson ended up third in Section 2-5A with a 6-4 record, behind Penn-Trafford (9-1) and Latrobe (8-2).

The Jaguars defeated Connellsville and Gateway twice, split decisions with Albert Gallatin and Latrobe, and lost twice to Penn-Trafford.

TJ has advanced to the WPIAL playoffs six times since 2014, finishing as a WPIAL runner-up in 2018.

Karcher took over as coach in 2013 and led the Jaguars to a WPIAL championship the following year.

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