If the Carmichaels softball team holds true to form over what it has done over the past few years, head coach Dave Briggs could be in for a long season – not that he’ll mind.
The Mikes have progressively taken another step each of the past three seasons, from winning a WPIAL playoff game three years ago to reaching the WPIAL championship game the last two years and winning a PIAA playoff game in 2013.
The Mikes, who have won seven consecutive section titles, return a lineup capable of taking another step forward, which would put a PIAA championship within their grasp.
“We have a lot of good players back,” said Briggs. “I think they’ve gained a lot of confidence the past couple of years.”
That can’t be good news for the rest of Section 2-A or Class A softball in general.
Carmichaels has a 59-8 record over the past three years, including a 22-4 record last season, which ended with a 6-2 loss to Southern Huntingdon in the state quarterfinals.
Four seniors, including four-year starters in shortstop Morgan Berardi and catcher Lindsey Osbourne, were lost to graduation.
“People talk about the girls we lost, but our top five hitters in terms of average are all back,” said Briggs.
Leading that group is junior second baseman Caroline Cree, an all-district selection last season, when she batted .443 with 23 stolen bases and 28 runs scored.
Also returning is senior pitcher Erica Burns.
“Erica’s tough,” said Briggs. “She’s just a good all-around softball player. In addition to being a great pitcher, she fields the ball well and hits well.”
With a number of Section 2-A teams returning with their core players intact, Briggs expects the Mikes to be challenged if they expect to win their eighth consecutive section title.
“I think if you look at it, it’s going to be very tough,” Briggs said. “There are a lot of good pitchers in our section. We had two teams reach the semifinals last season. I think overall, it’s the toughest section in the WPIAL in terms of depth.”
Burgettstown’s Mark Deer has a problem, though it’s one most coaches would love to have.
The Blue Devils have not just one, but three pitchers returning from a team that went 17-6 in 2013, won a Section 1-A title and advanced into the PIAA Class A playoffs.
“It’s a luxury, but it’s also a curse,” Deer admitted. “It’s nice having the three pitchers, but it’s tough trying to find time for all three.”
Senior Bryanna Lonick logged the majority of the innings in the circle for the Blue Devils last season, while sophomores Morgan Ellek and Kate Tarr also saw time.
Ellek and Tarr are two players from what Deer considers a strong sophomore class.
“We have four sophomores returning that started as freshmen last year,” said Deer. “They got a lot of experience in the playoffs that should really pay off.”
One of players the Blue Devils lost was all-district shortstop Lizzie Strain, who batted .474 with 24 RBI and 27 runs scored.
Deer is looking at a combination of Lonick and all-section catcher Caley Ritts, a junior, to handle the key position.
“You just don’t replace a player like Lizzie,” Deer said. “But we like Bry and Caley there. And we have a sophomore catcher (Shania Winters) we think has a chance to be really good.”
Longtime WPIAL power Sto-Rox disbanded its program this season, giving the section a new look. Deer expects a strong challenge from Bishop Canevin and Sewickley Academy.
The Eagles are coming off a tough season in Section 1-A in which they finished sixth with a 4-10 record and went 4-14 overall.
But hopes are high for a team that returns its starting lineup nearly intact with a number of seniors.
The Trojans had an interesting season in 2013, despite their 2-12 record in Section 2-A and 3-14 overall mark.
Calfornia was involved in seven shutouts last season, one of which it emerged as the winning team, the other six on the losing side. The Trojans need to improve on an offense that scored two or fewer runs in 10 of their 17 games.
The Rockets just missed the playoffs last season in Section 2-A, going 7-7 and 12-8 overall despite not having a senior on the roster.
Head coach Tony Barbetta returns his lineup intact, including junior pitcher Maddie Ludrosky and all-district catcher Regan Rush, who batted .521 with 30 runs, 13 steals and 11 extra base hits.
The Maples won just one game in 2013, an 11-9 victory over Geibel May 9. That was one of only two games all season in which Mapletown did not allow 10 or more runs. The other was in their season finale against Turkeyfoot Valley in a 7-6 loss.
The good news? The Maples did not lose a player to graduation.
The Greyhounds lost five seniors from last season’s team, which tied West Greene for fifth in Section 2-A at 6-8 and 8-9 overall.
Sophomore pitcher Shelby Minardi and junior shortstop Cara Grogan return to lead the Greyhounds.
The Pioneers return just four seniors from a team that went 11-9 overall and 6-8 in Section 2-A, but head coach Bill Simms has a nice mix of older and younger players.
Pitcher Bailey Bennington had a monster freshman season, earning all-district honors after batting .544 with 15 extra base hits and 21 RBI and striking out 183 batters in 116 2/3 innings in the circle.