Trib HSSN softball team of the week for April 9, 2023

Monday, April 10, 2023 | 6:02 PM

In Trey Tilghman’s first year as head coach of the Charleroi softball team in 2014, the Cougars captured a section championship.

Then over the next five seasons, Charleroi missed the playoffs.

But during that time, Tilghman saw a storm brewing in the youth softball leagues in the Charleroi school district.

That storm is now raining on the parade of Cougars opponents.

“Definitely, without a doubt I’ve been thinking about that for five or six years,” Tilghman said when asked about this special group of players at Charleroi. “This group when they were little, they were like 10 or 12 years old, playing rec ball and travel ball and I knew they had a bunch of talent. It was something I was looking forward to when they got us in high school.”

After ending a five-year drought, Charleroi made the playoffs in 2021 and was one and done, losing to Neshannock, 6-4 in the opening round.

Last spring, the Cougars again qualified and picked up a postseason victory over Serra Catholic in the first round, 5-3. Charleroi lost to eventual district and state champion Neshannock in the quarterfinals.

Now these black-and-red cats appear ready to take the next step.

“I do believe that and hope we take that extra step this year and get to the point where we can challenge for a WPIAL title,” Tilghman said. “That would be incredible for this group of girls. We have a good chemistry here, and they’re doing well right now. Hopefully we can continue down that road.”

Charleroi has scored nine or more runs in a game in five of their six contests. The Cougars have seven regulars hitting over .333 through six games and all but one are underclassmen.

Junior Sofia Celaschi is batting .556, junior Madalynn Lancy is hitting .545, junior Riley Jones is batting .480, senior Leena Henderson has a .409 batting average, junior Emma Stefanik is hitting .389 and senior Rece Eddy and freshman Lyla Brunner are both batting .333.

“We got off to a real good start in hitting,” Tilghman said. “Last year we struggled at the plate, but we jumped right into it this year, hitting the ball well and averaging 10 runs a game. You score 10 runs a game with our pitching, you’re going to win some games.”

Charleroi started its Section 3-2A schedule last week with a bang. The Cougars blanked Beth-Center, 10-0, on a five inning perfect game by Celaschi, who struck out 12 Bulldogs.

“Not only in the section opener, but all year, Sophia Celaschi has been spot on all year,” Tilghman said. “You can see how much she has matured from last year to this year. Plus we’re pretty well off defensively.”

Tilghman said another bonus is the team has some depth. That will improve even more with the return of junior McKenna DeUnger, a standout basketball player whose season was cut short due to injury. She has yet to play for the Cougars softball team, but returns this week in what will initially be a designated player role.

While it has been a splendid start for Charleroi, a test awaits this week.

On Monday, the Cougars visit Burgettstown (2-0, 5-2), on Wednesday, they’re home to Washington (0-3, 0-4), and on Friday, they visit Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (3-0, 4-1) with both road games having first-place implications.

“This week is big for us,” Tilghman said. “We’re going to be on the road for two tough games this week. The weather is great, and I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I’m sure the girls are ready for it too.”

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