Unbeaten Ligonier Valley softball quite comfortable in new surroundings of WPIAL

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 | 4:56 PM

Excuse Ligonier Valley if it needs a GPS to navigate its way through through the WPIAL.

The softball team, like many programs at the school, is new to District 7, having played for decades in the Heritage Conference of bordering District 6.

“We have to look up all these schools,” Rams senior Kailey Johnston said. “It’s hard to find information on a lot of them. I think we have a game coming up against a team that starts with an S.”

With the way the Rams have played, they are far from the outlier in Class 2A. They look far from lost.

In fact, opponents who might have to research where exactly Ligonier Valley is — pass Idlewild and hang a left, they say — are the ones wondering where this talented team came from.

The Rams are 8-0 and sitting comfortably atop Section 1 with a 6-0 mark. They are ranked first in the TribLive HSSN Class 3A top five.

“There has been a super-boost of morale with this team,” Johnston said. “We missed last season. We all came back stronger than before. With the WPIAL, we didn’t know what to expect.”

For instance, is it W-P-I-A-L, the whip-eel, or just, the wips?

That will come with time as the Rams take root.

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen with any of these new teams,” Rams’ 22nd-year coach Mark Zimmerman said. “We are sort of taking it slowly and playing it by ear. We always go by what we do, not what other teams do.”

Junior pitcher Maddie Griffin has been one of the most effective arms in the WPIAL. She tossed four no-hitters in her first five starts and did not surrender a run until Serra Catholic’s Lexxie Fite homered against her April 16.

She struck out 17 against Serra and 18 when the Rams shut out Steel Valley, 2-0.

Griffin had 86 strikeouts through six games while also providing offense as a leadoff hitter.

“Maddie is such a fierce competitor,” Zimmerman said. “She didn’t let it get her down. We knew she could come in this year and get some girls out for us.”

One of three players hitting .500 or better, Griffin scored 10 runs across the first five games and was batting .500.

Griffin saw limited time two years ago pitching behind standout Jane Garver, who is now seeing action as a freshman at Robert Morris. Griffin was 3-0 and struck out 37 in 23 1/3 innings as a freshman.

Griffin said she knows a lot of the Hempfield girls but is generally unfamiliar with WPIAL teams. She knows only some of the names from travel ball.

“I know 6A a little bit, but that’s about it,” she said. “I’m still learning 2A.”

Johnston was 15 for her first 18 (.600). Isabella Vargulish had seven RBIs and Haley Boyd also was hitting .500.

Griffin said the team has tweaked the batting order and worked in some younger players to see what worked best.

“It’s similar to a chemistry formula,” she said. “You keep mixing it together until you get it right. We have to keep chugging.”

While Ligonier Valley had the early success, Zimmerman knew his team was capable of more. Recent games have proven that as the bats have been more productive.

“We had been leaving too many on base,” he said. “We know we have girls who can hit, but we need to score runs when we get people on like that.

“If we play well and score some runs, I am happy with that.”

Jeannette forfeited two section games to the Rams. The Jayhawks are struggling to fill out a lineup because of low roster numbers. They have flunctuated between nine and 11 players.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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