Roughly three minutes after I started at the Observer-Reporter, folks began lecturing me on wrestling in the area, how many talented wrestlers and teams have come through here and how people were oh-so-passionate about the sport.
I even heard a rumor that assistant sport editor Joe Tuscano wore a singlet the day I interviewed.
(Kidding … or at least I hope.)
Wrestling, as I would learn, is a big deal around here, and for good reason.
But local softball teams should not be taken lightly either.
Canon-McMillan, Trinity, Chartiers-Houston, Burgettstown and Carmichaels all won section titles this season, the first time since 2007-08 we’ve had five section champions.
Those five titles are as many as Allegheny County won and one more than Westmoreland. Combine Washington and Greene counties, and the population sits around 250,000. Allegheny County has more than a million, Westmoreland upwards of 350,000.
The WPIAL softball brackets were released Thursday, and there’s a strong possibility we could have teams in all four championship games: Canon-McMillan, the top seed and defending champion, in Class AAAA; Trinity, seeded No. 2 in Class AAA; Chartiers Houston, No. 2 in Class AA and a two-time defending Class A champion; and Burgettstown and Carmichaels, a WPIAL final last year, seeded Nos. 2 and 3 in Class A.
Canon-McMillan should have little trouble with the Plum/Penn-Trafford winner, but the Big Macs could face Hempfield, the only team to beat the Big Macs (18-1) this season in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals.
Get through that and I like Canon-Mac’s chances against No. 2 Latrobe or No. 3 North Allegheny; the bats of Abby McCartney, Olivia Lorusso and Giorgiana Zeremenko, plus the arm of Alayna Astuto, are downright impressive.
Trinity will need to snap out of its recent funk – losses in four of six – to make some noise in Class AAA. Sophomore shortstop Olivia Gray is no doubt one of the WPIAL’s best, and second baseman Maddie Hornak has speed to burn. But the Hillers must hope pitcher Tiffany Clark recovers quickly from some late-season shoulder soreness.
Trinity opens with Brownsville and could face third-seeded Montour, a team the Hillers have beaten twice, in the semifinals.
Chartiers-Houston hasn’t been slowed much by the move to Class AA. Kayla Briggs is 15-0 with 154 strikeouts, and the Bucs are one of only three undefeated teams in the WPIAL. Ten of their 16 wins have come via shutout, and only three local teams have scored on them.
Riverside, the third-seeded team in Class AA and a likely semifinal opponent, is another one of those undefeated teams, as is top seed Deer Lakes.
Watch out for McGuffey, though. The Highlanders have won six of seven, the only hiccup a 10-0 aberration against Chartiers-Houston, and have a very good pitcher in Cassie Weiss.
We could have an all-local semifinal in Class A between Burgettstown, the Section 1-A champion, and Carmichaels, which won its seventh consecutive section title in 2-A.
Erica Burns (18 wins, 165 strikeouts) has been a pleasant surprise for the Mikes, who also boast an excellent shortstop in Morgan Berardi and a standout catcher in Lindsey Osborne.
Burgettstown, which has gotten great pitching from Bry Lonick, can also hit, having scored 11 or more runs in each of its past five games thanks to big-time bats in catcher Caley Ritts, shortstop Liz Strain and designated player Morgan Ellek, among others.
Burgettstown, like Canon-McMillan, faces a long layoff – 19 days! – before playing the winner of Leechburg/South Side Beaver. The Blue Devils should not lack for motivation, either, considering they were upset by 12th-seeded Mohawk in the Class AA playoffs last year.
What Burgettstown – and the rest of our local teams – will hope is that a marvelous regular season doesn’t end short of where it should.
Which, for the five section champions mentioned above, isn’t anywhere close to the first round.
Jason Mackey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org