Westmoreland baseball, softball teams strive to maintain perfect records

Thursday, April 11, 2019 | 5:54 PM

Undefeated Island has been a crowded place. While the population dwindled some this week, those remaining don’t want to leave.

Four teams from Westmoreland County baseball and softball take unblemished records into Friday, and they will press on with the hopes of maintaining perfection as the season nears its midway point.

Ligonier Valley has unbeaten teams in baseball and softball, and the Mt. Pleasant and Penn-Trafford softball teams also have yet to lose.

Penn-Trafford baseball, off to its best start since 2014, was 9-0 before losing to Plum on Thursday.

Undefeated teams often are judged by their “quality” wins, but the Warriors baseball team has a few. It beat No. 5 Pine-Richland, 13-2; North Allegheny, 6-5; and Gateway, 10-9.

Penn-Trafford is ranked No. 2 in Class 6A behind Central Catholic.

“It comes down to three things,” Warriors coach Dan Miller said. “One is the maturity factor. We’re loaded with seniors and juniors. Two, the kids aren’t afraid to put the work in and have hard practices. And three, they believe in each other.”

The Warriors softball team is 7-0 and pounding the ball like they have the last few years. They have 62 runs and have scattered extra-base hits throughout the lineup. But coach Denny Little knows the hit parade can’t last forever. A tight game is lurking somewhere on the schedule.

“We have been working on some small ball, too,” Little said. “There might be times when we have to be creative. We’ll have to prepare with a two-strike approach. We’re not always going to snooker the ball.”

Mt. Pleasant (8-0) is used to having regular-season success, a result of stellar pitching and big-swinging bats. The trick to postseason runs has been to prolong those strengths. That being said, this team also has the look of a winner.

Mt. Pleasant first-year coach Chris Brunson said pitcher Carolyn Alincic, the team’s lone senior, has shown strong leadership to match her numbers.

The Morehead State commit has 21- and 18-strikeout games and has shown plenty of control in the circle and command in the locker room.

“We have a core of kids that are trying to play softball in college and they are highly motivated,” Brunson said. “The kids have bought in. They are trusting in the why and how we do things at practice. We talk about each game being a rung on a ladder, and we have to take it one rung at a time to reach the top.”

Brunson and assistant Aaron Hutter established a weight-training program in the preseason. The Vikings have displayed plenty of extra power to the tune of 10 home runs.

Mt. Pleasant, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, edged No. 2 Yough, 3-2, this week, its lowest run output but a win nonetheless.

Ligonier Valley plays in District 6, and the Rams sit atop the Heritage Conference standings in baseball and softball, both teams with 7-0 records.

The baseball team is hitting .413 and has scored 89 runs. Five players are batting over .400.

“We have done a great job offensively of hitting with two strikes,” said first-year coach Brett Marabito, a Laurel Valley alum who played at Pitt-Johnstown and also coached at IUP. “We’ve also done a tremendous job stealing bases. My guys have truly bought into the system, and you can see they’re comfort on the bases.”

The Rams softball team, led by Robert Morris recruit Jane Garver, has run-ruled five opponents and also has notable wins against Belle Vernon and Punxsutawney. The team’s ERA is 0.41. They are hitting .411 as a group, and of their 72 hits, 20 have gone for extra bases.

There were 12 unbeaten softball teams in the WPIAL before Thursday’s games, and just three in baseball.

Greensburg Salem baseball was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A but took its first loss Wednesday against Yough.

Latrobe softball was unbeaten until it ran into Penn-Trafford on Wednesday at Seton Hill. The No. 2-ranked Warriors topped the No. 1 Wildcats, 6-2.

Little said the way his team approaches games, in general, could be what keeps the Warriors perfect.

“It’s about mental toughness,” he said. “As long as (the opponent) thinks they’re better than you, they can beat you. We have to go out and show them whose section it is.”

Penn-Trafford baseball, despite its success, is trying to keep a low profile.

“We have talent, yes,” Miller said. “But we’re a team. It’s not one or two stars.”

With a lefty-heavy and experienced lineup, Miller thinks the Warriors can find different ways to win, be it through scratching out a run or two or stringing together hits.

“We had 16 hits against Connellsville,” Miller said. “You’ll have days like that. But you’re not always going to get the hits. Sometimes you’re going to have to rely on your pitching and defense.”

Senior pitcher Maclean Maund has been solid for the Warriors. He struck out nine in six innings in a 1-0 victory over Hempfield this week.

“We’re trying to stay humble,” Maund said. “We don’t want to look past anybody. Just act the same way we would if we were 0-9. We have one goal in mind, and nobody is going to stop us.”

Maybe the secret to an unblemished record is reward.

Little and his staff introduced a new form of motivation to his players this season: Honey badger cards.

The business card-sized, laminated notes are rewards for out-of-the-way efforts. “Heart plays,” junior pitcher Morgan Hilty said. A diving play, an extra effort on the base paths or a clutch hit are examples that might merit “Badgers.”

“The best things that work (for motivation) are internal,” Little said, “not external.”

The team also gets helmet stickers for statistical outputs. Morgan Nedley has complete confidence in her hitters, many wearing cluttered helmets.

“I know the lineup is always going to put up runs,” Nedley said. We have to take it one game at a time.”

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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