Westmoreland among the best when it comes to high school softball

Sunday, May 26, 2019 | 7:10 PM

Bob Kalp has been involved in high school athletics in various capacities for more than 50 years.

The timeless Hempfield softball coach, in his 23rd season, has not taken success for granted and does not expect anything to be handed to his team come playoff time.

“Outstanding players are directly proportional to the number of practice reps taken by the players in general,” he said.

Speaking of repetition …

His Spartans (15-6) will go for their fifth consecutive WPIAL championship Thursday when they take on top-seeded North Allegheny (15-6) in the Class 6A final at 4:30 p.m. at Peterswood Park.

As usual, they won’t be alone in representing the hot corner of the state map.

With Hempfield leading the pack, it’s been quite a five-year run for Westmoreland County softball teams in the WPIAL playoffs. At least two local teams have made the finals every year since 2015.

Mt. Pleasant (17-0), the only undefeated team in the WPIAL softball or baseball playoffs — and the only district team in the national MaxPreps Top 25 rankings (18th) — will take the field before Hempfield on Thursday to go for the Class 4A title at 2:15 p.m. The Vikings will play Elizabeth Forward (16-3).

Last year, four Westmoreland teams played for WPIAL titles and four made the finals in 2017.

Hempfield beat Latrobe in the past two 6A championships, and Belle Vernon won back-to-back titles in 2017-18. Southmoreland won its first title, in Class 3A, a year ago.

Kalp, 74, said the county’s run is somewhat unique because of the number of title-caliber teams but might be more of a pattern. The arrow is pointing at Westmoreland — for now. The trick is keeping that way.

Technique is improved, options have been expanded and skill is better honed these days, Kalp said.

“Exceptional talent runs in cycles,” he said. “The past four or five years have been outstanding due to a group of exceptionally talented athletes coupled with the expanded playing season with high school, travel ball and fall ball. Many more athletes have been involved with private hitting and pitching coaches as well.”

The move to six classifications surely has opened doors for more teams to compete but coaches say there is more to it.

Mt. Pleasant coach Chris Brunson said the reason the county has more boom than slump is directly related to travel softball.

Girls play dozens of games, sometimes four or five a day, during the summer. It’s the time when recruiting blossoms and scholarship offers are extended. When a wealth of talent blends from travel into the high school season, the competition guage quickly rises.

“Exceptional players play travel ball,” Brunson said. “It’s no surpise the top (high school) teams have the success they do. The girls put in so much time and sacrifice so much, countless hours to get to the top.”

It’s not uncommon to see players rooting for friends and summer teammates who play for other high school teams.

Brunson said travel softball is a family affair.

“All the dads out there who didn’t get boys played baseball when they were younger,” Brunson said. “I always said God gave me girls to try to get me on the floor and play Barbies. I wasn’t going to sit and play with dolls when my girls were little. My connection to my daughters is through sports.”

With a win Thursday, Hempfield could tie Sto-Rox’s WPIAL record with five consecutive softball titles (2000-2004). The Spartans also have won three PIAA titles in a row.

Mt. Pleasant won the WPIAL Class 3A title in 2016.

Monessen played in the past two Class A title games, and Yough made the Class 4A final in 2017 and Class 3A final in ‘16.

While one might stop short of calling Westmoreland the “mecca” for high school softball in the state, wrestling can claim that distinction. The county’s run started in 2017.

Burrell has won 13 straight Class AA team titles. Mt. Pleasant won three of the four before that, and Burrell grabbed the other.

Kiski Area has three straight Class AAA titles. Belle Vernon won in 2016, and Franklin Regional was the AAA champ in 2014 and ‘15.

Penn-Trafford’s Rich Ginther, who recently stepped down as wrestling coach in Harrison City, is an assistant softball coach for the Warriors.

“In Southwestern Pennsylvania, wrestling always has been big,” he said. “These clubs have come in and work with the top guys. They took it too another level. Fifteen, 20 years ago, you didn’t have that.

“It’s similar with softball and the travel circuit. The best girls play. So to be on a high school team and start in Western Pa., most girls had to play travel ball. It also helps you to be mentally tough to play at this level, just like the wrestling clubs.”

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

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