Westmoreland athletes of the week: Greensburg Salem’s Gionnah Ruffner, Norwin’s Nolan Ryan

Saturday, April 22, 2023 | 4:33 PM

Gionnah Ruffner

School: Greensburg Salem

Class: Junior

Sport: Softball

Claim to fame: Ruffner, a center fielder, is helping to keep the Golden Lions in the playoff race in WPIAL Section 2-4A. She went 4 for 5 with a double, triple and three runs in a 12-3 win over Laurel Highlands. In the previous game, a 14-4 victory over Ringgold, she went 4 for 4 with two home runs, a double, four RBIs and four runs.

“I have been coaching or watching her play since she was 8 years old,” Greensburg Salem coach Bill Wright said. “You could always see the love she has for the game. She has great talent and instincts and the desire to get there.”

Ruffner, a Seton Hall commit who is a catcher in travel softball, was leading Greensburg Salem with a .583 average, six homers and 14 RBIs.

You are swinging a hot bat. Why now?

My hitting coaches, Jim Hoffner and Scott Downer, have really helped me. I am concentrating more to get on base.

What makes a good hitter?

Discipline … Knowing when to take a pitch and when to swing at a second strike. It’s about what you do two strikes deep.

Do you consider yourself a power hitter, gap-to-gap hitter or get-on-base hitter?

Power hitter. I feel like there are times when I can hit the gaps and times when I can hit a single if we need it.

Who is your favorite catcher of all time?

Alabama catcher Bailey Hemphill. I love watching college softball.

What is your nickname?

“G.” It’s what everyone calls me.

Who is the best pitcher you have caught?

Gabby Gradishar, a sophomore from Ohio. She is one my travel team (Thunder Elite Steiner).

Who is the best hitter you’ve played against?

Amarah McCutcheon (of Southmoreland). She is a good friend. You have to give it to her. She is an amazing hitter with so much power.

What are your summer plans?

I am going to visit Seton Hall and work to better the relationship I have with coach (Angie) Churchill.

Who inspires you the most?

My mom and dad. They have pushed me to be the best person I can be. They lead the road for me.

What sport are you secretly good at?

Volleyball. I also play (that sport). I have always wanted to try tennis, but I am not very good at hitting that ball.

What is something about yourself nobody knows?

I collect all of my home run balls. I have a Tupperware thing under my bed. I would guess it has 70-some balls in it.

What is the farthest home run you have hit?

When I was playing 14-U in Ohio, we played on a baseball field and I hit one out. A coach said it was probably 295 feet. I took it to left.

Who is the vocal leader on your team? And who is the lead-by-example one?

Vocal is out pitcher, Kaidence Thomas. Lead-by-example would have to be Paige Storkel, our catcher.

What do you see your future role being at Seton Hall?

I would like to come in and get hits as a freshman. I want to earn my spot and show I am supposed to be there.

Nolan Ryan

School: Norwin

Class: Junior

Sport: Baseball

Claim to fame: Ryan had quite a game Wednesday in helping the Knights defeat Mt. Lebanon. Ryan had a two-run double to give his team an early lead and later hit two home runs and finished with six RBIs. He is batting .400 with 14 hits in 35 at-bats with 12 runs scored, 11 RBIs, six doubles and three home runs.

Have you ever had a game like that before?

No. It was truly one of a kind. Never hit two home runs in a game. It felt pretty good.

Talk about the performance.

The double was great. It was a full count, and we had men on first and second and it put us up 2-0. It kind of set the tone.

Are you named after a famous baseball player?

Yes, I’m named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. My mom and dad came together on that name, and they thought it was nice.

What do you know about the famous pitcher?

He threw hard and was dominating. He also was a good hitter. I’m no pitcher. I play third base. No pitching for me. I know a lot about him and his famous run-in with Robin Ventura. He decked him. That was funny.

Did your friends kid you about being named Nolan Ryan?

Yeah, when I was younger. Now that everyone knows me, my friends don’t really talk about it anymore. But when I was younger they would kid around with that name.

Talk about the season so far under new coach Craig Spisak.

We’re not doing too badly. We’ve dropped a couple close games. We’re keeping everything relatively close. With the next six games we have got coming up, we win them and get into the playoffs. That’s the plan.

What’s the goal?

Make the playoffs and see what happens. That’s what we’re striving for.

Do you have any special rituals you do before a game?

Not really. My mom and dad will text me and say play hard and that we love you. I’ll respond to that and then go out and play baseball.

What type of music do you like?

I’m not particular about the music; whatever the team is playing in the locker room is fine with me. I’m just getting ready to play baseball.

Do you have a favorite ride?

I’m fine with the car I have, my 2023 Kia Forte. I love my Kia. I don’t think I need anything else besides my Kia.

Who got you started in baseball?

My dad (Mike) because my older brother (Michael) played baseball, and I always watched him play and I wanted to be like my brother. I started playing when I was 4 or 5 down at PAL, and I’m still playing. I love the sport.

The Pirates are off to a good start, what do you think?

Hopefully they can keep it up. I’m not following MLB that much. I see their record is pretty good to start the season, hopefully they can make the playoffs maybe.

Who is your favorite player?

It has to be Nolan Ryan.

Who is your favorite athlete?

Probably wide receiver Michael Thomas from the New Orleans Saints.

Who is your favorite team in Pittsburgh?

I like the Penguins. I like following hockey. I’m a big hockey guy.

What’s your go-to snack at home?

Probably a cosmic brownie or a honey bun. You can’t go wrong with those sweets.

Where do you and your teammates head for a snack after a game or practice?

We go to Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursdays. They have the boneless Thursdays. That’s always nice to do. I like the mild boneless wings.

What’s the favorite meal your mom makes?

I like steak and potatoes.

Sheetz or GetGo?

Sheetz. I like the Mac and Cheese bites.

Chipotle or Moe’s?

Chipotle. I like the options you can choose there.

Favorite subject in school?

I like U.S. History.

Most memorable moment in baseball you’ve had prior to Wednesday’s game?

When I was in travel ball when I was 9 or 10. I hit a game-winning grand slam in the semifinals of a tournament and earned MVP honors.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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