Westmoreland baseball, softball teams on a champions tour in ’18

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Saturday, March 24, 2018 | 3:27 PM


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If there ever was a coach who thought he could one-up perfection it's Hempfield softball's Bob Kalp.

Kalp has been with the program for 28 years, this his 22nd as head coach, so one might think he has seen it all.

Talent-loaded Hempfield went 27-0 last season and brought home more WPIAL and PIAA championships for the mantle.

Some thought Kalp might retire and ride off into the sunset after the powerhouse Spartans' best season, but he didn't because he wants “the challenge to try and do it all over again.”

“We had a parents meeting, and I showed a slideshow of last year's team,” Kalp said. “You look at that team and what they did. You ask yourself, how do you do better? You can't possibly do better. Well, if we don't get a bye in the first round, and we play 28 games …”

Vintage Kalp.

If he was grading a perfect SAT exam, he'd mention the dullness of the pencil point used to fill in the circles.

He believes even the best teams can sharpen their skills.

Hempfield won't be the only local team in line to chase another championship. The WPIAL softball and baseball seasons are on the verge of opening — a little later than expected thanks to last week's snowstorm — and defending titles will be the order of the day for several Westmoreland County teams.

The question is, can Westmoreland go around the horn again?

Last season was one for the scrapbooks, equally historic and euphoric, as five area teams celebrated titles in the spring season. In softball, Hempfield won WPIAL and PIAA titles in Class 6A, Mt. Pleasant won a 4A state title, and Belle Vernon grabbed a WPIAL 4A title.

Latrobe (5A) and Jeannette (A) won their first WPIAL baseball titles, with Latrobe also adding a PIAA trophy.

Latrobe (6A), Yough (4A) and Monessen (A) were WPIAL runners-up in softball, while Mt. Pleasant (3A) and Greensburg Central Catholic (A) reached WPIAL title games in baseball.

Teams were honored locally at the courthouse and recognized before state dignitaries in Harrisburg. They waved to crowds in Fourth of July parades, raised banners in their gyms and slid on championship rings.

Diamonds are a girl's best friend at Hempfield, which captured its third consecutive WPIAL title and repeated as PIAA champs.

Hempfield must replace one of its best senior classes, one that produced a wealth of college-level talent.

“You can't limit yourself by what you think you should be,” Kalp said. “They have to be their own team and make their own story.”

At least two county teams have won WPIAL titles in softball for three consecutive years. Last year was the first time two county baseball teams won titles in the same year.

A Westmoreland team has won a WPIAL baseball title three years in a row (Greensburg C.C. won in 2015; Norwin won in 2016).

Latrobe baseball finished 24-2. The walk-off Wildcats found ways to win, even when their chances seemed dim late in games. A cohesive senior group is gone and a new-look team steps into the fold, but the memories will linger for a long time.

“We still have the group texts,” Latrobe coach Matt Basciano said. “Things that pop up that remind us of last year. It's amazing to sit back and think about what we did. I remember all the teams (on the scoreboard) at states and seeing us up there. And then seeing us up there as the last man standing.”

Not known traditionally for its baseball prowess, Jeannette rubbed elbows with football and basketball when it made the WPIAL finals for the first time. The Jayhawks then finished the job.

“Making that type of history was great, but I think how we played is more important for this year's team,” Jeannette coach Marcus Clarkson said. “We played some really good baseball. I can always point back to that team and that group of seniors as leaders and also how hard that run was. Every game was tight, and we took advantage of some missed plays and had some clutch hits.

“Our expectations are the same … Hopefully, we'll be playing our best baseball at the end.”

The Jayhawks won WPIAL and PIAA titles in football and went far in basketball. Now, some of the same athletes think they can keep the momentum going in baseball.

“We are just trying to get prepared,” said Jeannette senior Tre Cunningham, a key pitcher and hitter who is working his way back from basketball. “We aren't really trying to live up to expectations. We are just coming out and playing baseball.”

Mt. Pleasant softball could be the most talented of the bunch with eight starters back, a nice mix of upper- and underclassmen and skill all over the field. The Vikings' title was the first by any team at the school at the PIAA level.

“That title comes with a lot of respect and admiration,” Mt. Pleasant coach Lauren (Shaheen) Armanious said. “Reflecting on last year has been extremely influential for our preparation.

“We have so many coachable, respectful and determined athletes. Kids that have talent and are willing to put in the time and learn is the best thing that you could ask for. If we plan on ending on a high note, we will have to be extremely prepared.”

The WPIAL softball finals will have a new home this season, and it presents an enticing proposition for local teams. Seton Hill will host the championships May 30-31.

Hempfield starts the season as the Tribune-Review's preseason No. 1 in 6A, and Mt. Pleasant owns the top spot in 4A.

Latrobe is No. 2 in 6A. Belle Vernon is No. 2 and Yough, No. 3, in 4A.

Jeannette (A) is ranked No. 2 in Class A, and Latrobe is No. 5 (5A) to open the baseball season.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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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