Without Parshall, Belle Vernon softball team seeks new identity

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Thursday, March 7, 2019 | 3:55 PM


How will Belle Vernon’s softball team fare without Bailey Parshall?

That’s the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to the Leopards. Last summer, Parshall wrapped up her dominant high school career in the pitching circle by leading Belle Vernon to a third WPIAL title in her four years.

With the star lefty at Penn State now, the Leopards have to replace her 76-13 career record and 984 strikeouts. Oh, and she hit .418 with three home runs last season, too.

“Softball is all about pitching, defense and timely hitting,” Belle Vernon coach Tom Rodriguez said. “The hardest one to fill will be the pitching. When you have great pitching, you don’t need as much defense.”

The team will turn to sophomores Sophia Godzak and Vanessa Porter to take over in the pitching circle.

“They both play on travel teams, so they get a lot of work,” Rodriguez said. “I am thinking one or both of them will be handling the pitching duties.”

Junior Jaelynn Clegg could see some time in the circle, as well.

“She has been battling some leg issues, but she could possibly pitch for us as well when she gets healthy,” Rodriguez said.

The squad’s defense suffered some losses, too, with the graduation of shortstop Alex Sokol and third baseman Kourtney Gavatorta. However, junior second baseman Natalie French and senior first baseman Mekenzie Sokol return to the infield, though Sokol could move to a different position.

Senior Ally Pacak returns at catcher. Senior Jordan French is back at center field, while Porter saw time in the outfield and at third base and Godzak contributed in the outfield and at first base.

“It’s tough to say now since it’s so early, but there are some holes to fill,” Rodriguez said.

Without Parshall leading the way in the circle or at the plate, Belle Vernon knows it will have to find a way to score more runs this year.

“We didn’t hit very well last year as a team, truthfully,” Rodriguez said. “We need to improve on that.”

The Leopards focused their offseason workouts on strengthening themselves at the plate.

“We’ve had a trainer coming in twice a week and doing some conditioning,” Rodriguez said. “We’re doing a lot of core work to try to get their hitting up.”

The players were receptive to the training. It was so popular that they’ll keep working on that program once games start.

“The girls want to continue it, which is great,” Rodriguez said. “In the past, we did that just before the season. But, we’ll continue that during the season one day or so per week.”

Despite losing some firepower, Rodriguez is encouraged by what he’s seen from his squad.

“The seniors are stepping it up, which is really nice,” he said.

Belle Vernon finished 22-4 last year and tied for second in WPIAL Section 2-4A at 9-3. Rodriguez expects another challenging section schedule.

“There are a lot of good teams in our section. Elizabeth Forward will be really good. They have a freshman who will be really good,” he said. “They moved Thomas Jefferson into our section. They were 5A last year and went deep in playoffs, so I expect them to be one of the top two teams, at this point.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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