With playoff sting faded, North Hills softball turns page

Saturday, March 25, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The sting from last June sat with the North Hills softball team for a while, but now the Indians are ready to atone with a new cast.

North Hills finished the 2022 season with a 17-5 record. It lost to eventual champion Armstrong in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals and had its season ended on a ninth-inning home run by Central Mountain in the PIAA first round.

The loss was crushing, as it ended the high school careers for 11 seniors, including a trio of all-state players.

“There was high expectation last year,” said North Hills coach Libby Gasior, who enters her 15th season. “It was a bittersweet season from the start and a ‘last run’ type of feeling for them. They were a big part of our program and a lot of pressure was on them.

“We finished third in the WPIAL, and I’ll take that. But the PIAA game was tough. It took longer than I thought to turn the page on that.”

And that’s not Gasior speaking just for her players, but also for herself. She describes the loss as “depressing” due to the disappointment that the senior class felt and how that permeated throughout the entire program. But, despite the heartbreak, many of those graduates have also stayed close, coming back through the offseason to help the Indians’ returners grow.

“From the preseason conditioning on, with this group, it’s been a very positive vibe,” Gasior said. “It’s been very nice to see some of the younger kids who waited their turn get a chance to step up.”

North Hills is now led by a mixture of veteran players and fresh faces.

“It has been a process, but it’s been a process that we’ve really embraced,” Gasior explained. “It’s been refreshing. With 11 seniors, there were a lot of things they understood about the program. Now, we’re doing a lot more skill work, a lot more development.”

Gasior has welcomed in eight freshmen to join six sophomores, two juniors and six seniors.

The Indians return a talented third baseman in senior Hanna Murphy, who was a first team all-section pick last year at third base and has spent some time at catcher during the preseason.

“She’s just a very kind-hearted kid,” Gasior said. “She’s very interested in making sure that everyone is a part of things and included. She’s very team-first. And she smacks the ball.”

Fellow seniors Brenna Westwood, a second team all-section selection at second base last year, and shortstop Alyvia Merz will anchor the lineup.

Another senior, Miranda Groll, has not only taken over in center field but also served as an inspiration for the team. After having her freshman season canceled due to covid-19, she missed the last two years due to serious injuries to each knee.

“We were in Tennessee last week, and she got a hit and I literally teared up,” Gasior said. “My whole heart is filled for her. She loves it and brings so much to the team.”

In the battery, North Hills has worked to find a replacement for pitcher Sophia Roncone, who is now pitching as a freshman at Holy Cross, and catcher Abby Scheller, who is playing at Akron.

“They were an incredibly talented duo,” Gasior said. “Both of them have been very involved in making sure they give back and help with the younger pitchers. Even before last year, they made that a point.”

Sophomore Alexa Edmunds has taken over in the circle.

“She’s been very strong,” added Gasior. “She’s a very different kid and unique in the way that she’s the perfect person to come in after (Roncone). She saw what (Roncone) did, and she respects that and wants that, but knows that she needs to do it the way she wants to do it.”

Around Edmunds and the core group of seniors will be some of that freshman class, which should make an impact right away.

“They came in with a good number of players who, at the end of their careers, are going to have some serious numbers at the varsity level,” Gasior said, adding that Abby Sutton has emerged from the group of ninth graders.

“I’m really happy with the way we look. We’re just trying to move forward in terms of filling in where everybody is. But they’ve been great so far.”

Following last year’s disappointment, Gasior’s biggest message to her team has been that finality can come all too soon. So finding a way to stave that off as long as possible is a driving force behind North Hills in 2023.

“The group of seniors now really learned a lot from the way that last year went,” Gasior said. “You only get one shot at your senior year, and then it’s gone. I think that’s going to prove to be something that’s going to help us in the long run.”


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