Westmoreland softball notebook: Franklin Regional surges into playoffs

Wednesday, May 12, 2021 | 10:02 PM

After losing its first two games, the Franklin Regional softball has been a model of consistency.

Sort of.

A four-game winning streak was followed by four straight losses. But then, five more wins in a row.

Coach Jim Armstrong is focusing more on the most recent streak, which earned the Panthers (9-6, 8-4) a spot in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“We have turned it around some,” he said. “I think that at the beginning of the year we were just trying to find the pieces to for the puzzle. We are a young team, and they are coming into their own. I told the girls finishing strong is the important thing. We will have some bumps along the way but to just take it one game at a time.”

After Franklin Regional lost to Section 1 leader Armstrong at home, Armstrong talked to his players in the dugout around a space heater on a freezing, gray day.

The bats also were just getting warmed up.

An offensive surge jump-started the late-season playoff push. The Panthers beat Penn Hills, 10-2; Woodland Hills, 15-5 and 10-0; and Kiski Area, 12-3.

Armstrong said patience has been the key to staying the course after the team sank to 4-6 just past the midseason point.

“That was our motto over the last few years,” he said. “One pitch at a time. Three full outs. Seven full innings. And 21 full games.

“Keep your eye on the prize and visualize.”

But Armstrong realized this year’s team never has actually embraced that motto — until now.

Sophomores have powered the lineup. Madison Nguyen might be the best 5A player you haven’t heard of. She was hitting .488 with seven home runs, 26 RBIs and 16 runs. Nguyen was closing in on the school single-season record for homers set by Erin Clines, who hit nine.

“That is always a spark to help get teams going,” Armstrong said of the home runs.

Other sophomores include Alexa Patberg (.400), Sydney Jackson (.392, 11 RBIs) and Carli Ramchandran (12 RBIs).

Senior Kamaria Kelly (.326) also has been a sparkplug in recent rallies.

“Kamaria set the tone in the Kiski game by leading off with a triple, and then scoring the first run on a squeeze play by (junior Kamryn Marcus).”

Senior pitcher Makinzie DeRiggi was 5-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings.

“Even though the Plum and Armstrong games were losses, she pitched well and kept us close,” Armstrong said of his ace.

With the playoffs approaching, the Panthers are looking to continue the offensive uptick and cut down on fielding miscues.

“The girls are learning and having fun,” Armstrong said. “They are a good group with some super attitudes . They never give up. They believe in our motto.”

And in streaks.

Playoff time

The WPIAL will announce playoff pairings at 5 p.m. Thursday, with opening games likely to begin Monday.

The brackets will be revealed live on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

The WPIAL plans to use neutral sites for all playoff games. The softball finals are June 2-3 at Cal (Pa.).

Westmoreland County appears to have some serious contenders in just about every classification.

Local qualifiers include: Hempfield and Norwin (6A); Franklin Regional, Latrobe and Penn-Trafford (5A); Belle Vernon, Burrell and Yough (4A); Derry, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and Valley (3A); Ligonier Valley (2A); and Greensburg Central Catholic (A).

Penn-Trafford, Mt. Pleasant and Ligonier Valley could be in line for top seeds.

Mt. Pleasant is ranked No. 3 in the state, while Ligonier Valley is No. 4 in 2A.

Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs, the WPIAL said, can continue to play games until the date of the state championship as long as they don’t surpass the PIAA limit for games in a season.

Vikings honored

A pair of Mt. Pleasant standouts were selected to the Premier Girls Fastpitch Northeast Region All-American team.

Seniors Haylie Brunson and Courtney Poulich received the honor on the eve of the WPIAL playoffs. Mt. Pleasant began the week ranked No. 1 in WPIAL Class 3A.

Brunson, a Pitt commit, is having an All-WPIAL type season. She was hitting .627 with 16 doubles, four home runs and 27 RBIs.

Poulich, a Liberty commit who has come back strong from a serious hamstring injury, had a .536 average with four homers and nine RBIs.

Whiff test

Ligonier Valley junior Maddie Griffin could top the 200-strikeout mark in the Griffins’ next game Thursday against Connellsville — or in the first round of the WPIAL 2A playoffs.

The fireballer had 193 strikeouts in 13 games for the Rams. She has eight no-hitters this season, the first in the WPIAL for Ligonier Valley.

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

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