Young West Mifflin clears obstacles to make softball playoffs

Monday, May 14, 2018 | 8:09 PM

For the first time in four years, and just the third time in the last 20, the West Mifflin softball team has earned a place in the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

The notable feat for the program did not come without its challenges, however, as the Titans (11-9, 5-7) had to overcome the early-season loss of one of its senior leaders when catcher and four-year starter Alyssa Bell tore her meniscus just a few games into their 2018 campaign.

West Mifflin will play its first-round game at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Indiana at Plum High School.

The injury was a big blow to a roster that has just one other senior starter. But first-year coach Erik Hilligsberg and his team did not shy away from the test of taking the diamond without one of its leaders. In fact, they embraced it. And now, the Titans' postseason charge is being spearheaded by some of its youngest players.

“I told the girls from Day 1, that to me, I don't care how old you are or what grade you're in. If you're talented enough to be in the starting lineup then you're expected to play well and do your job if you're in there,” Hilligsberg said.

“I think they've handled that approach very well and they've all done well for us. Actually, three freshmen and a sophomore ended up being our top four hitters this season.”

Freshman Alyssa Schmidt, who took over at catcher after the injury to Bell, finished the season as the Titans' leading hitter with a .423 batting average. In addition to her success swinging the bat, Hilligsberg credits Schmidt's play behind the plate with ensuring that the team's defensive play didn't miss a beat.

Schmidt wasn't the only underclassman to step up, however, as sophomore second baseman Jaden Arcuri hit .364 during the regular season. The freshman duo of shortstop Lauren Yuhas and outfielder Emma Mackulin also stepped up, with the former batting .360 and the latter hitting .345.

“Nowadays, it's not like it was 30 years ago. With travel ball where it is now, these girls have been playing against upper level competition throughout the summers for the past few years,” Hilligsberg said.

“It might've taken players years to develop before, but now I think they're ahead of the curve from already playing against older competition during their summer seasons.”

In addition to the youngsters, junior pitcher Annie Modrick has a 10-7 record. Junior first baseman Isabella Farmer also has been instrumental to her team's success as her coach designated her as the team's most solid defensive player.

Senior Kristen Davies is also making her impact felt at the plate, sporting a .333 batting average.

Junior outfielders Casey Bornak and Mikayla Gouker have been mainstays as contributors in the starting lineup. The same can be said for senior Riley Carr and junior Kira Kieler, who have provided consistently solid defense.

The noteworthy success of West Mifflin's younger players has helped drive the team to a certain extent, but without the contributions of the juniors and its pair of seniors, Hilligsberg said it would be hard to imagine the team reaching the playoffs.

“It's been a total team effort, that's one thing about this group that I like. They've been very committed in everything that we've done,” Hilligsberg said.

“These girls work hard. In fact, every girl on our varsity roster is an honor roll or high honor roll student for us in the high school, too. That's something that I'm really proud of, as a teacher.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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