With ace injured, 5-time defending WPIAL champion Hempfield faces obstacles

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | 4:53 PM


Veteran Hempfield softball coach Bob Kalp is facing a daunting task this season.

The coronavirus continues to put up numerous obstacles in front of his teams, and an injury to his star pitcher, senior Callie Sowers, has him scrambling.

“We have 30 players on the roster, and I only know nine of them,” Kalp said. “Because we have to wear masks, I’m constantly asking them their names.”

Hempfield returns only three players that started during the 2019 WPIAL title run: Sowers, catcher Emma Hoffner and left fielder Kelsi Terzolino.

“That was one of the most gratifying seasons I’ve had as a coach,” Kalp said as he begins his 25th season. “It took a while for us to come together, but once Callie found her stride, we took off. We would have been really good in 2020.”

Hempfield defeated North Allegheny to win the WPIAL Class 6A title in 2019, its fifth in a row. It reached the PIAA semifinals before falling in extra innings to Central Dauphin.

The 2020 season looked to be another banner year for the Spartans until the coronavirus shut things down.

Not only did the team lose a shot at adding another banner to the wall, but Kalp lost a chance to evaluate the underclassmen and the players lost valuable training.

“Our program is built on discipline and reps,” Kalp said. “We do things over and over, and the underclassmen understand what we’re doing. I’m sure every team is in the same boat.”

Kalp would be a little more relaxed if Sowers were healthy. She suffered a thumb injury on her throwing hand (right) during a scrimmage against Ligonier Valley. Kalp found out Monday she will be out for at least a month.

So Kalp will be counting on two promising freshman pitchers — Hannah Uhrenek and Peyton Heisler — to pick up the slack. Both, however, are battling minor injuries, too.

“Both can throw in the upper 50s,” Kalp said. “But it’s going to take time for them to develop and become more consistent.”

Not knowing the players as well as losing its indoor practice facility because students are coming back full-time to the high school doesn’t help.

Kalp said because of CDC mandates, the gym where the softball team holds indoor practices will be used as a holding area for student overflow.

“We just have to hope for good weather,” Kalp said. “If the weather is bad, we won’t be able to hold full practices. We’ll have to practice in shifts.”

Kalp said he doesn’t know what to expect with Sowers out.

He is rebuilding an entire lineup. He said he feels the pieces are there, but it’s going to take some time.

Hoffner, a four-year starter at catcher, will be a big key. The Ohio University recruit has been a rock behind the plate. She had the winning hit in the 2018 PIAA championship game.

Sowers, who signed with Bloomsburg, will give the Spartans experience on the mound when she returns, and Terzolino, who will continue her collegiate career at Pitt-Johnstown, likely will start in left. She had a winning hit to beat Baldwin in 2019.

The other players vying for starting jobs are junior outfielders Lauren Allison and Sydney Mitchell and junior infielders Mallory Brean (second), Olivia Kline (third or first), Emma Hornyak (shortstop) and Ellie Nicholls (first).

Kalp said there are some talented sophomores and freshmen pushing for jobs. Sophomore Olivia Orischak, whose sister Ashley was one of the graduating seniors from 2020, is in the hunt for an outfield spot. Ashley Orischak is playing at St. Francis.

Class 6A is divided into two sections. The Spartans are in with North Allegheny, Norwin, Butler, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley.

Kalp isn’t worried about winning the section. He hopes to be one of the eight playoff teams.

And if Sowers can return, Kalp likes his team’s chances of competing for another title.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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