Westmoreland County Senior Spotlight: Hempfield’s Sydney Mitchell

Monday, June 20, 2022 | 8:17 AM

Sydney Mitchell, the speedy center fielder for Hempfield’s softball team, always figured she’d wear Pitt colors someday.

She will do that in the fall, but the route she took had some twists and turns in it.

As Thanksgiving of her senior year approached, Mitchell hadn’t received a scholarship offer and she didn’t know what to do. Reach out to college coaches to sell herself? Get ready to hang up her spikes and head to Oakland as a student but not a softball player?

That’s when she received a text message out of the blue. And gold.

It was Pitt-Johnstown coach Niki Pecora, inviting her for a visit.

“I was set on going to Pitt main, just to go to school. I love the campus. My mom went there. I just wanted to go to Pitt,” Mitchell said. “But I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll give it a try. It’s still the Pitt name and everything.’”

When Mitchell went on her visit to UPJ, she reconnected with former Hempfield teammate and close friend Kelsi Terzolino. She toured the facilities. She met with the coaches.

“I loved the school. I loved it a lot,” Mitchell said. “I still really like Pitt main, and obviously they’re very different schools. They’re not anything similar. But I was like, “You know what? I’ll see.’ ”

Mitchell had visited other schools during the recruiting process, from Fairmont to Slippery Rock to IUP, but those encounters ended with polite conversations, not concrete offers. UPJ was different.

“I walked into (Pecora’s) office, and she was like, ‘Well, there’s a spot for you, so you decide. I’m offering you. I’m giving you this much money,’ ” Mitchell said. “I kind of looked at my mom and I was like, ‘You know what? I really think I like it here, but I’ll give it one night to think about it.’

“I texted her the next day, and I was like, ‘Yep, I want to go here.’ ”

Mitchell said she still aspires to head to Oakland for law school in a few years. Before heading east to Johnstown, Mitchell took a few minutes for a Senior Spotlight Q-and-A session:

How would you sum up this season for Hempfield softball? It was the first season under coach Tina Madison after Bob Kalp retired. You won the section championship, but the season ended with a loss to Seneca Valley in the WPIAL semifinals.

I loved Coach (Bob) Kalp and everything about him, but I was excited to have a girl coach because I’m going to have a girl coach in college. I wanted to see how it was. I felt good for most of the season. I felt like there were a few games where we weren’t ourselves and we couldn’t get up for the game. Me being one of the four seniors, I tried my best. It was hard. It felt like a broken spell, a little bit. But I thought we turned it around. We ended up winning the section with only one loss, and the Seneca game, that could have gone either way. I felt good.

Do you wonder what would have happened if pitcher Riley Miller hadn’t been injured before the Seneca Valley game?

With the injury, I was like, “I’m going to step up as a senior myself.” We had a practice the day after, and I talked with the girls for probably five minutes before practice, with coach Tina standing right there, and I said, “I want to rewrite this story. It would feel even more amazing to me if we didn’t have to have our ace pitcher win it all for us. Any pitcher on the mound can win it for us.” Even though it went the way it did, I felt like our team got together and felt that same thing.

What was your favorite memory of playing softball at Hempfield?

I feel like the best memory was this year when we beat Penn-Trafford (6-5 in 10 innings on May 10). Mia Smith, she’s going to UPJ with me, very good pitcher. I know her from travel. I play her all the time. Coach Denny Little for Penn-Trafford is my hitting coach. I just know a lot about them. Every team plays Hempfield stronger no matter what because everyone wants to beat Hempfield. Penn-Trafford and Norwin especially. Penn-Trafford and us, we both want blood. At the beginning of the year, we kind of crushed them in a scrimmage, but it was just a scrimmage. But they were mad about it. I felt like that game was really good for us.

What part of your game do you feel is ready for college softball and what part are you still working on?

I’ve always been a strong outfielder. I’ve always had a good arm. My one regret, four years ago, someone said, “You should switch to the left side.” I said, “I don’t know.” I was a pretty decent hitter then on the right side. I was like, “I’ll give it a year and see.” I was still hitting pretty well on the right side, but my dad said, “You know what? I think you should still think about going to the right side.” I said, “I don’t know,” and I stayed righty, which I regret now. My hitting has never been superior. … (Hempfield assistant coach) Alex Belgiovane, his daughter went to UPJ, and he said, “They’ll switch you at UPJ if they want to. It’s not too late.”

Have you ever tried hitting left-handed? That sounds like it would be so hard to do after hitting righty your whole life.

I have jokingly tried it. I can jokingly try to bunt on the left side. I’ve never tried it in a big game. I don’t know if I could immediately hit from the left side, but it’s not too bad.

Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people.

I actually swam for nine years. I did softball, but swimming was kind of my main thing. I swam freshman year for the high school, but I never went past that because that’s when I felt I didn’t really like swimming anymore. But when I swam for the YMCA, we went to districts and states and it was all very fun. I met some of my best friends that way. It just was not for me anymore.

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at jbombulie@triblive.com.


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