Trib HSSN athletes of the week: South Fayette’s Richie Dell, Laurel’s Mackenzie Latess
By: Don Rebel
Wednesday, June 6, 2018 | 7:48 PM
School: South Fayette
Claim to fame: Dell and his teammates partied like it was 1999 (yes, a Prince reference) after they beat Ringgold to win the WPIAL Class 4A baseball championship last week. That's because it was only the second district baseball title for the Lions and first in 19 years. Dell was a big part of the South Fayette turnaround season and their title game victory. He hit .339 with two homers and 19 RBIs and was 6-2 with a 1.94 ERA on the hill. In the championship game, Dell smacked a triple that led to a key insurance run in the sixth, and after a shaky first inning in which he allowed one run, he limited the Rams to four hits while striking out seven in picking up the victory in a 4-1 triumph.
Last year, South Fayette finished under .500 and didn't make the playoffs. Did you see this championship run coming this year?
Going into spring practices I could tell that we had a good team with the ability to do something special this year. We were a very young team last year. A lot of guys on this year's roster were starters last year. Having that year of development paid off for us.
Did beating Hopewell in your first section game give the team a boost of confidence? When did you realize this might be a special year?
We played, and beat, some very good teams on our Florida trip. That gave us the confidence that we would come back north and compete well in the WPIAL.
Was it a case of nerves for you in the first inning of the championship game against Ringgold when you hit the first batter then gave up a run before shutting down Ringgold into the seventh inning?
I was certainly excited to start the championship game, but it was the combination of that and getting used to pitching on an all turf mound, which I have never done before.
It was a 2-1 game in the sixth inning when you tripled and scored, giving the Lions a three-run cushion. How big was that moment and what led to your success on offense this year?
It's always good to have a cushion late in the game. That gave us more confidence that we were going to finish it off with a win. I try to focus on driving the ball where it is pitched. That happened to be a fastball up and away that I got my barrel to and drove into the right-center gap.
South Fayette has had some pretty good baseball teams in years past, yet this is the Lions' first WPIAL baseball title since 1999. Do you know anything about that team from nearly 20 years ago?
No, I'm not familiar with that team. I wasn't born then. All I know is they have a banner hanging in our gym, and we're excited to put this year up there with them.
Rank the four seasons for you?
Summer is first because there is no school and great weather. Spring is second because winter is done, and I get to play high school baseball. Winter is my third favorite because I enjoy watching it snow, but I don't like the cold. Fall is last because I get really bad allergies.
What is a breakfast food you can eat every day and one that you would be happy if you never ate again?
I could eat my mom's chocolate chip pancakes all day, every day. I would be ecstatic if I never had to eat eggs again.
Claim to fame: The Laurel softball team was young, with only two seniors on the roster. When the Spartans finished second in Section 4-2A with a 9-3 overall record, most thought Laurel was a team built for the future. Well the future was now as the No. 6-seed Spartans upset Seton LaSalle and Chartiers-Houston on their way to the title game where they upended and dethroned Frazier. Latess played a big part in the success, hitting over .600 for the season. Locked in a pitchers' duel and scoreless heading to the seventh inning, Latess delivered the Spartans' first hit off Commodores pitcher Logan Hartman, a triple to the wall in right-center with one out. She then scored the only run when teammate Kaylee Withrow followed with a double. The softball crown was the first in Laurel history and could be just the start of a golden run for the Latess and the Spartans.
Laurel was the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. Did you feel slighted by that or was it what you were expecting?
Truthfully, the sixth-seeding really didn't bother us. I feel it gave us a harder work ethic, so we could prove what we were capable of doing.
Last year, the Spartans suffered a tough loss to eventual champion Frazier in the quarterfinals, 7-6. Did that performance give this year's team confidence heading into this year's title game against the Commodores?
I think that loss made us more determined to get better and improve. Frazier has a very solid team, and we knew they were going to be tough to beat, but we were very prepared for the game and were ready to do whatever it took to win.
What do you think surprised people outside of your team the most — the quarterfinal win over Seton LaSalle, the semifinal win over Chartiers-Houston or the championship win over Frazier?
Definitely the championship win over Frazier. Making it that far was a surprise itself, but I think beating a two-year WPIAL champion team was the biggest shock to everyone.
What were you thinking going to bat in the seventh inning of a scoreless final facing Logan Hartman, who had not allowed a hit to that point?
My approach going up to bat never changes, no matter if we are up by five or the winning run is on second. I'm always thinking hit, hit, hit. In pressure situations, I try to keep it simple. I know my mechanics are there, and I know what I am capable of doing.
How does it feel to be part of the first softball championship team at Laurel? Have you thought about next year yet when most of your team returns?
It feels amazing; our team is very close. Winning always feels great, but when you do it with your best friends it just makes it a little sweeter. We are very excited for next year. This year we challenged ourselves with the goal of going to the WPIAL championship. Next year our goal is to make a run for the state finals.
Summer movies: What are your three can't miss movies this summer?
“Incredibles 2,” “Uncle Drew” and “The First Purge 7.”
Three favorite appetizers, three favorite main courses and three favorite desserts?
Appetizers: Spinach and artichoke dip, mozzarella sticks and calamari. Main courses: Steak and potatoes, wings, chicken fingers and fries. Desserts: anything chocolate.
Don Rebel is a TribLive High School Sports Network broadcaster and staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com.