Trib HSSN Softball Player of the Week: Connellsville’s Jena Hixson
By: Don Rebel
Monday, April 22, 2019 | 10:29 PM
In the first seven years of this decade, Connellsville qualified for the WPIAL softball playoffs only once — in 2010.
But the Falcons are trying to end the decade with a bang having made the postseason the last two years and sitting a half-game out of second place in a tough Section 1-5A after two big road section wins over Franklin Regional and Latrobe last week.
“The wins were very big to put us in good position to make the playoffs and to show we can play with the better teams,” Connellsville coach John Burd said.
Jena Hixson led the way on offense with three hits in the victory over the Panthers and going 2 for 3 in the win against the Wildcats.
“The thing that stood out about Jena was the how clutch the hits she had were and how she wasn’t overwhelmed with the at-bats,” Burd said. “A couple of those hits were with two strikes.”
Hixson also drove in half of her team’s 12 runs scored last week, with three RBIs in each victory. Burd said Hixson’s success in that category was a team effort.
“I think the keys were girls at the bottom of the order getting on base, giving her the chance to knock them in. Also watching the ball and not putting too much pressure on herself, which she has done in the past.”
Hixson has been impressive all year, with a .436 batting average, .450 on-base percentage, .462 slugging percentage and .912 OPS.
“My expectation for Jena is to be a consistent No.2 hitter,” Burd said. “Making contact and sacrificing when called upon. She is a great No. 2 hitter and can get on base and move runners. Also, she is a very good defensive outfielder.”
The Falcons reached the district semifinals last spring and Hixson played a role as a freshman. Burd pointed out two things that have stood out from her freshman season to successful sophomore campaign.
“I believe her self-confidence and consistency are her biggest improvements,” he said.
With two weeks left in section play and the Falcons sitting in third place, two games behind front running Penn-Trafford and a half-game behind Latrobe, Burd does not want his players looking ahead to a possible third straight trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
“We strive to improve and get better with each game and to win each game we play, taking it one game at a time,” he said.
Madison Hershberger, Albert Gallatin
After reaching the WPIAL semifinals and the PIAA quarterfinals a year ago, 2019 has been and up and down season for Albert Gallatin. But going 2-1 last week in Section 1-5A has kept the Colonials alive in the postseason chase thanks to Madison Hershberger going 5 for 11 with four runs scored and seven RBIs, including five runs driven in against Laurel Highlands. The junior also smacked a pair of doubles and two home runs and picked up a victory in the circle with four scoreless innings against Kiski Area.
Kierra Waywood, Yough
Kierra Waywood thrived both at the plate and in the circle last week for the green and orange. The Yough junior was a combined 5 for 8 at the plate with two runs scored, a run batted in and a double in section wins over Armstrong and Highlands. Waywood also was the winning pitcher for the Cougars in each game, allowing one earned run over seven innings with 10 strikeouts against the River Hawks, then the next day pitching seven shutout innings with 10 more strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the Golden Rams.
Ariana Garroway, Ellwood City
Sitting in the middle of the pack in Section 2-3A, Ellwood City needed a pre-holiday boost and got it in the form of two section victories. Senior Ariana Garroway made the most of her opportunities when she wasn’t being walked, which happened in four of her eight plate appearances. She hit a grand slam, drove in five runs and scored three times in a win over Beaver Falls, then had a run-scoring double and scored three more times in the Wolverines‘ win over Hopewell.
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.