After winning its first 18 games last season, the Chartiers-Houston softball season ended with losses in two of its final three games.
Chartiers-Houston dropped a 4-0 decision to Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals, rebounded to defeat Beaver, 2-0, in the WPIAL consolation game, but was then ousted in the opening round of the PIAA tournament by Phillipsburg-Osceola, 4-1.
It was a bittersweet ending for Bucs head coach Tricia Alderson.
Chartiers-Houston lost not only longtime standout Kayla Briggs, a four-year starter and pitcher her final two seasons, but also senior stalwarts Samantha Elliott and Piper McLaughlin.
Then, at the end of the school year, Toni Spossey, an Observer-Reporter All-District player who had transferred to Chartiers-Houston from Trinity last year, moved out of the area, dealing the Bucs yet another loss.
Alderson is not in the habit of using the term “rebuilding,” and isn’t about to start. But she knows that the Bucs have some work to do this season.
“With who we graduated and lost, basically, we’ll be missing four of our top five batters,” Alderson said. “Haley Sutton is the only one who is back.”
Making things even more difficult is the the Bucs have some players dealing with injuries, the most notable being junior catcher Casey Craig, who is lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
“A lot of kids need to step up,” Alderson said. “They’re excited about the opportunity. We had some huge losses, and then adding Craig on top of that is tough.”
Junior Kassie Kesneck will get the first shot at replacing Briggs, a four-time all-district and all-state performer, as the Bucs’ pitcher. Briggs finished her stellar career at Chartiers-Houston with a .512 batting average, 23 triples, 153 runs and 94 RBI. As a pitcher, she had 390 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings. She was a key member of two WPIAL titles and a PIAA championship.
“I keep telling Kassie that she doesn’t have to be Kayla,” said Alderson. “She just has to be herself.
“I’ve been very pleased with how she’s looked. She’s pitched before, just not at the varsity level.”
The Bucs went 12-0 in Section 2-AA last year, but all of the personnel losses might bring them back to the pack. Sutton, an all-district performer after driving in a team-best 25 runs last season, will be counted on to power the offense.
“It’s a tough section,” Alderson conceeded. “McGuffey’s got Cassie Weiss back and she’s a very good pitcher. Bentworth was very young last season and made the playoffs and (coach) Jim Armstrong at Waynesburg always does a good job.”
With Briggs graduated, the mantle of top pitcher in Section 2-AA might have been passed to Weiss. An all-district performer as a junior in 2013, Weiss struck out 139 batters with only seven walks in 114 innings, leading the Highlanders to a 15-6 record and a spot in the WPIAL quarterfinals after moving down from Class AAA.
McGuffey started several underclassmen last year but did lose some key players. Sammie Weiss and Mandy May are among the top returning starters.
“We have some girls who played a lot as freshmen,” said McGuffey coach Bill Lohr. “So they got some experience. But Cassie is going to have to put us under her belt a little bit and carry us. And we’re going to have to score her some runs. But we feel pretty good about where we’re at.”
Sophomore pitcher Casey Hite returns for the Bearcats after a solid freshman season, when she helped lead Bentworth to a third-place finish in Section 2-AA with a 7-5 record (9-9 overall).
But key hitters Mackenzie Marchitello, Jamie Schrock and Ariel Kadish are gone.
The Raiders lost only two seniors from a team that barely missed the playoffs at 6-6 in section and 9-9 overall.
Pitchers Jordan Moore and Taylor Staley both return, giving the Raiders a nice one-two punch.
Pitcher Abby Gustovich returns for her sophomore season for the Bulldogs, who went 4-8, 5-9 last season in Section 2-AA.
Five seniors were lost to graduation, though a number of key contributors, including Chelsea Snyder and Alexandra Trippy return.
Pitcher Taylor Ellis returns for the Prexies, who fielded a young lineup last year.
Washington hopes for a better finish after going 3-9 in section play and 3-10 overall.
The Rangers struggled through in 2013, failing to win a game, going 0-12 in Section 2-AA and 0-18 overall.
Klarissa Diamond was a top performer for the Rangers last season and she returns.
The only area Class AA team not in Section 2, the Cougars finished fifth in Section 4 at 3-7 and 4-9 overall.
The Cougars lost just one senior and expect a better finish.