WPIAL softball preview: District champions ready to retain titles

Thursday, March 22, 2018 | 1:30 PM

The WPIAL softball season will officially begin Friday, and Hempfield (Class 6A), West Allegheny (5A), Belle Vernon (4A), Ellwood City (3A), Frazier (2A) and West Greene (A) will begin defense of their district titles. Hempfield, Mt. Pleasant (4A), South Park (3A) and West Greene (A) claimed 2017 PIAA titles.

Here's a look at some of the top teams and players in the WPIAL:

Class 6A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. Hempfield (27-0) — The three-time defending WPIAL champion Spartans graduated seven starters but still could challenge for a third straight PIAA title. Dominican recruit Maddie Uschock takes over in the circle for Morgan Ryan (Notre Dame), who was the state's Class 6A player of the year.

2. Latrobe (13-9) — Latrobe was the WPIAL runner-up a year ago and returns seven starters to take another run at Section 2 rival Hempfield. The group includes an all-section quartet of Karley Kovatch, Sarah Blair, Rebecca Tatone and Makayla Munchinski. Kovatch hit .483 and was all-state last season.

3. Baldwin (13-5) — Baldwin claimed the Section 1 title last season and returns several talented players, namely catcher Carly Santillo, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit who is a two-time all-section selection, and Taylor Dadig, a George Mason recruit who batted .642 in an all-state campaign last year.

4. Seneca Valley (15-6) — The 2017 Section 3 champion Raiders return eight starters, including three all-section honorees who hit above .450 — Morgan Aloi (SS), Amanda Magill (2B) and Karli Hacker (C). Claire Zimmerman was an all-section pitcher.

5. North Allegheny (14-9) — Though first-team all-state shortstop Rachel Martindale will miss the season with an injury, the Tigers return eight starters, including pitchers Ashley Adams and Brooke Serbin, as well as Division I prospect Anna Pilotta in the outfield.

Players to watch

*Sarah Blair, Sr., 2B/SS, Latrobe

*Taylor Dadig, Sr., INF, Baldwin

*Laura Fox, Jr., OF, Hempfield

*Katelyn Greaves, Sr., INF, Canon-McMillan

*Karley Kovatch, Sr., SS/C, Latrobe

*Mandy Magill, Jr., INF, Seneca Valley

*Anna Pilotta, Sr., OF, North Allegheny

*Carly Santillo, Sr., C, Baldwin

*Kelsey Tobin, Sr., DP, Hempfield

*Claire Zimmerman, Jr., P, Seneca Valley

Class 5A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. West Allegheny (23-2) — West Allegheny will look to duplicate a season that included a WPIAL championship and trip to the PIAA semifinals. Senior all-state pitcher Ashey Seamon returns to help make it happen after a 23-2 season where she also hit .371. Mackenzie Partyka also was an all-section selection.

2. Moon (13-6) — Last season's WPIAL runner-up returns eight starters, including all-section catcher Morgan Toal, who hit .542 with 25 RBIs. Senior infielders Shannon Camardese and Lauren Niglio, outfielder Alyssa Sisko and pitcher Lauren Protch also were all-section honorees.

3. Albert Gallatin (19-5) — As a freshman last season, Pitt recruit Annalia Paoli hit .506, clubbed 13 home runs and had 47 RBIs to lead Albert Gallatin to the PIAA tournament. She returns, along with all-section teammates Allyn Bezjak, Hannah Umble and Maddie Flowers.

4. Connellsville (11-6) — The Falcons won the Section 2 title a year ago and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals behind junior all-section pitcher Mia Burd, a two-time honoree. Shortstop Brooke Miller and center fielder Josie Moorhead also were all-section selections and are among seven returning starters.

5. Montour (14-9) — All-section infielders Lindsey Perz and Brittney Seibert, an RMU recruit, and pitcher Alyssa Boris are among six starters back to lead Montour, which reached the WPIAL semifinals last season.

Players to watch

*Angalee Beall, Jr., P, Franklin Regional

*Mia Burd, Jr., P, Connellsville

*Gabrielle Fischetti, Jr., C/3B, Plum

*Haleigh Karcher, Jr., C, Thomas Jefferson

*Mackenzie Lake, So., SS, Plum

*Courtney Moyer, So., INF, Kiski Area

*Ashley Seamon, Sr., P, West Allegheny

*Brittney Seibert, Sr., SS, Montour

*Morgan Toal, Sr., C, Moon

*Annalia Paoli, So., INF, Albert Gallatin

Class 4A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. Mt. Pleasant (17-3) — Not only do the defending PIAA champion Vikings return 10 players with starting experience, they also added a pair of freshmen — Haylie Brunson (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Courtney Poulich (Liberty) — who have committed to Division I schools. Outfielder Ava Gnibus was first-team all-state after hitting .532 with 17 RBIs. Seton Hall recruit Meadow Uncapher, a pitcher/first baseman, also returns after hitting .421 and earning all-state honors. Senior infielder Chloe Poulich is a Towson recruit.

2. Belle Vernon (20-2) — Penn State recruit Bailey Parshall returns to the circle after going 20-2 with 246 strikeouts and a 0.520 ERA last season, when she was named the state player of the year for Class 4A. She also hit .551 with 17 RBIs for the WPIAL champion Leopards, who return four other starters.

3. Yough (19-4) — The WPIAL runner-up returns seven starters, including Pitt recruit Hannah Bach and leading hitter Aubrie Mance. Pitcher Kierra Waywood was second-team all-state after going 19-3 with a 1.15 ERA and 115 strikeouts.

4. Knoch (16-3) — Seven starters return for the Section 1 runners-up, including leading hitter Monica Gourley and pitcher Celia Knappenberger, who both were all-section selections last year.

5. Beaver (10-7) — Section 3 runner-up Beaver returns seven starters, including six underclassmen, notably sophomore pitcher Allie Teagle. Senior outfielder Paige Ziggas was named to the all-section team.

Players to watch

*Hannah Bach, Sr., INF, Yough

*Chelsea Bisi, Sr., INF, Derry

*Ava Gnibus, Sr., OF, Mt. Pleasant

*Monica Gourley, Jr., INF, Knoch

*Bailey Parshall, Sr., P, Belle Vernon

*Chloe Poulich, Sr., INF, Mt. Pleasant

*Meadow Uncapher, Sr., P/INF, Mt. Pleasant

*Kierra Waywood, Jr., P, Yough

*Paige Ziggas, Sr., OF, Beaver

*Haleigh Zimmerman, Jr., INF, Indiana

Class 3A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. South Park (21-3) — Plenty of talent returns for the defending PIAA champion Eagles. Senior third baseman Katlyn Pavlik, a Pitt recruit, was the state's Class 3A player of the year after hitting .614 with 45 RBIs. Junior shortstop Kaitlyn Morrison hit .471 and was a first-team all-state selection. Jess Dean was a first-team all-state first baseman who hit .487 with 22 RBIs.

2. Ellwood City (19-1) — The WPIAL champions return 10 players with starting experience, but they will miss graduate Skyla Greco, one of the state's top pitchers. Back are three junior all-section honorees — catcher Ariana Garroway, infielder Natalia Greco and outfielder Anna Ferrucci.

3. Southmoreland (11-8) — The Scotties have seven letter winners back, including center fielder Bethany Bunner, a three-time all-section selection who hit .343 and scored 14 runs last season.

4. Deer Lakes (16-3) — Deer Lakes has played for a WPIAL championship in five of the past six seasons, finishing second last season. Katelynn Blair is back after batting .672 with 38 RBIs. Also back are senior Dani Huffman (.607) and sophomore Mikayla Blair (.469).

5. Freeport (11-5) — After finishing tied for second in Section 1 a year ago, the Yellowjackets return eight starters for a run at a title. The group includes senior infielder Claire Crytzer and junior pitcher/outfielder Allison DeJidas, who were all-section selections last season.

Players to watch

*Katelynn Blair, Sr., INF, Deer Lakes

*Bethany Bunner, Sr., CF, Southmoreland

*Jess Dean, Jr., 1B, South Park

*Allison DeJidas, Jr., P/OF, Freeport

*Anna Ferrucci, Jr., OF, Ellwood City

*Ariana Garroway, Jr., C, Ellwood City

*Natalia Greco, Jr., INF, Ellwood City

*Sydney Kirkwood, Jr., INF, South Allegheny

*Kaitlyn Morrison, Jr., SS, South Park

*Katlyn Palik, Sr., 3B, South Park

Class 2A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. Frazier (19-3) — The reigning WPIAL champions return all nine starters. Pitcher Logan Hartman was all-state as a freshman, boasting a 12-1 record with a 1.67 ERA. She also hit .394. Senior infielders Lauren Mastowski and Kayla Matway and junior outfielder Megan Celaschi were all-section picks last season.

2. Chartiers-Houston (18-5) — The Bucs finished fourth in the WPIAL last year and made a trip to the PIAA tournament. Back is sophomore all-state shortstop Kaci Alderson, who hit .560 with five home runs. Pitcher Kaitlyn Dittrich also returns, along with catcher Kasey Scears. Both were all-section honorees.

3. Seton LaSalle (13-6) — The Rebels are led by senior shortstop Lexi Wagner, an Oregon recruit who hit .467 with eight home runs last year and was named to the all-state team. She is one of seven returning starters, a group that also includes all-section pitcher Jada Simon.

4. Apollo-Ridge (9-4) — Eight starters are back for Section 2 runner-up Apollo-Ridge, which is looking for its first section crown in 30 years. Junior pitcher Mollie Charlton led the team in pitching and hitting last season. Catcher Sidney Shaeffer was an all-section selection.

5. South Side Beaver (20-4) — Last year's PIAA runner-up was hit hard by graduation as pitcher McKenna Smith (Cedarville) and infielder Hunter Hand (Marist) moved on to the collegiate game. Sophomore catcher Sydney Payne and junior outfielder Rachael Pieto were all-section selections.

Players to watch

*Kaci Alderson, So., SS, Chartiers-Houston

*Mollie Charlton, Jr., P, Apollo-Ridge

*Logan Hartman, So., P, Frazier

*Bridget Hudson, Sr., C, CWNC

*Haley O'Neil, Jr., P, OLSH

*Lauren Mastowski, Sr., INF, Frazier

*Kasey Scears, Jr., C, Chartiers-Houston

*Maddie Shiderly, Sr., C, Mohawk

*Bella Skatell, Jr., OF, Greensburg C.C.

*Lexi Wagner, Sr., INF, Seton LaSalle

Class A

Preseason Top 5

Team (2017 record)

1. West Greene (26-1) — The Pioneers are chasing a third straight WPIAL championship, and they will rely on the state's co-players of the year to defend their PIAA title. Twins Madison and McKenna Lampe hit .567 with 52 RBIs and .643 with 33 RBIs, respectively. Also back are sophomore pitcher Jade Renner, who was 19-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 84 strikeouts; senior shortstop Madison Renner, who batted .500 with 12 home runs and 58 RBIs; and junior second baseman Kaitlyn Rizor, a first-team all-state pick who hit .540 with 33 RBIs.

2. Monessen (16-7) — The 2017 WPIAL runners-up have seven starters returning, including first-team all-state pitcher Dana Vatakis, a Robert Morris recruit who was 16-7 with a 1.29 ERA and 214 strikeouts. She also hit .533 with 29 runs. Junior DP Gabby Simpson also returns after missing last season with an injury.

3. Leechburg (13-2) — With eight starters back, Leechburg again hopes to contend for a WPIAL title. The Blue Devils were semifinalists last season. Back are senior pitcher Morgan Pierce, as well as first-baseman Emily Bush, both all-section picks.

4. Carmichaels (17-7) — A PIAA qualifier last season, Carmichaels welcomes back all-state catcher Megan Walker, who hit .397.

5. Bishop Canevin (10-5) — Bishop Canevin returns eight starters from a team that tied for second in Section 3. The group includes senior center fielder Clare McMahon, who hit .641. Senior shortstop Haley Pilch also was an all-section selection.

Players to watch

*Maddie Guzzie, Sr., INF, Monessen

*McKenna Lampe, Jr., OF, West Greene

*Madison Lampe, Jr., 3B, West Greene

*Clare McMahon, Sr., CF, Bishop Canevin

*Morgan Pierce, Sr., P, Leechburg

*Jade Renner, So., P, West Greene

*Madison Renner, Sr., SS, West Greene

*Kaitlyn Rizor, Jr., 2B, West Greene

*Dana Vatakis, Sr., P, Monessen

*Megan Walker, Sr., C, Carmichaels

Bill Hartlep is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bhartlep@tribweb.com.

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