East Xtra: Spartan effort not enough to keep PIAA softball title hopes alive

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Despite an enormous amount of adversity -- mostly in the form of injuries to key players -- the Hempfield Area High School softball team once again turned in a credible season.

The Spartans went 18-6, shared the Section 1-AAAA title with rival Norwin, advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game and once again qualified for the PIAA tournament.

Spartans coach Bob Kalp is amazed at the team's achievements despite dealing with a plethora of injuries.

Kalp listed the players who had to deal with injuries this season -- Kasey Kolick, Hope Pehrson, Taylor Bartlow and Alyssa Bates.

Kalp described Kolick as his best offensive player. She hit for a .560 average last year, but she missed the season with a torn labrum. Bates, the team's starting catcher, sustained a broken finger. Pehrson, a veteran pitcher, has been out with an injured arm, and Bartlow, a freshman, who was originally tagged to be Hempfield's No. 3 pitcher, missed part of the season with a shoulder injury.

Kalp was able to find some suitable replacements, however, as Karilynn Null stepped in to carry most of the pitching load and Maddy Knizner proved to be a reliable replacement for Bates behind the plate.

Bartlow has been put on an eight-week rehab program designed to help young athletes get bigger and stronger in order to withstand the stress caused by activities such as pitching.

"[Bartlow] is a tall, slender girl but her upper body is not developed. So she has to go to a specific program to build up the upper body," Kalp summarized.

He noted the positive of the program, however.

"All of these kids should be doing more conditioning to effectively play the game," he said. "There's more to being a pitcher than throwing the ball."

Despite a strong performance by Null against District 6 champion Central Mountain on Monday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, the Spartans lost a frustrating 2-1 decision to end their season.

"About every inning we had runners on base, we just couldn't get a key hit," said Kalp.

In the end, Hempfield stranded 11 base-runners.

"We had seven hits, five walks and 12 baserunners," Kalp said. "But we could only muster one run."

Kalp noted that Central Mountain's two runs had come in the bottom of the first inning: "[Central Mountain's] leadoff batter walked. Then, they hit a ground ball to short and we made an error. They ended up with runners at second and third."

At that point, Central had a base hit and then scored again on a fielder's choice. Kalp explained that the ball was hit to the shortstop, who was unable to make the play at the plate. She stepped on second.

"A walk, an error, one hit... and they scored two runs," Kalp summarized.

The game was played at Penn State University, and Kalp rode home with the underclassmen as the seniors departed a bit earlier for their graduation ceremonies.

"That's the way it goes -- you lose the game sometimes even though you played well," Kalp said.

"The only decision I've got to make now is what day we're collecting equipment."

He noted that the players will go on to play for their various summer league teams.

"In October we'll start again with pitchers and catchers," Kalp continued talking about the path forward. "Again, it's all you can do. It's not like this is the first big game we've ever lost.

"Our official conditioning starts in January. "We'll go two days a week."

The thought of relating Hempfield's annual calendar made Kalp reflect a little further on the game with Central Mountain.

"Right now I'm thinking about all the hours, all the days," Kalp said, "and then to have a game like this."

He recalled that Hempfield had runners on base every inning but one, and that a timely hit or two could have reversed the outcome of the game.

But Kalp's ultimate conclusion is about what the Hempfield athletes achieved in spite of several key injuries.

"We still shared the section title, we still made the WPIAL finals and we still made the state tournament," he said. "It's a testament to the kids. We sucked it up and got it done."



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