Mike Conlon has umpired WPIAL Class AAAA softball playoff games, he has refereed the WPIAL Class AAA football championship game, in short, he knows a quality WPIAL team when he sees one.
So far the first-year coach likes what he sees from his Montour softball squad.
The Spartans are 6-3 overall and 4-1 in Class AAA Section 2 after routing Carrick, 21-4, Tuesday. Two of their losses came on a three-game trip to North Carolina, playing some of the best teams in that state.
On Monday, Montour knocked off Class AAAA powerhouse Shaler Area, 4-3.
The Spartans are the defending WPIAL Class AAA champions but with the graduation of four seniors, including standout pitcher Kaitlyn Kutchman, expectations were tempered this season. Montour was not ranked in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings.
"Things are better than expected," Conlon said. "I kept on telling the girls, we have to find ourselves first. Some of my seniors have the mentality that we are good and we are going to win even with losing four good seniors [from last year]."
Last season Montour activated the 10-run mercy rule seven times on its way to the WPIAL championship game and PIAA semifinals. This year, especially in section play, shortened games are likely to be few and far between.
Montour has played in three one-run games already, beating West Allegheny and Shaler and losing to Trinity.
"We keep reminding the girls that little basic stuff will make or break a game," Conlon said. "We have had a few mental breakdowns on plays that have hurt us. We have to cut down on the errors, make our bats hit and win by a run. That was my theory this year."
Montour's top returning starters are senior shortstop Stacey Capp and senior center fielder Alyssa McMurtrie. Through seven games Capp, a Robert Morris University recruit, was perfect in the field and nearly perfect at the plate. She is batting .733 with 14 runs, 11 RBIs and four doubles. In the field she has maintained a 1.000 fielding percentage, making 27 putouts.
"She is one complete ballplayer," Conlon said. "Nothing really fazes her. She takes her time in the field, she makes her play, cool, calm and collected."
Against South Fayette last week Capp was 3 for 3 with three doubles.
"Having a kid like that on the team makes my job a lot easier," Conlon said. "When I need a hit, she comes up with a hit. It keeps me at ease knowing she will put the ball in play.
"Her game is complete -- she can run, she can field, her bat is unbelievable."
Capp bats third in the lineup and McMurtrie hits leadoff. McMurtrie, a Point Park University recruit, is batting .353 this season with five runs and two RBIs.
"Alyssa is fearless in the outfield," Conlon said. "She has a great glove and is an all-round tough player. She can slap [hit], she can bunt and she can hit it in the gap."
McMurtrie hit her only home run last season in the WPIAL championship game.
Conlon, a Kennedy Township police officer, is in his first year coaching WPIAL varsity softball. He coached the eighth grade team at Montour last season.
Other offensive leaders for Montour are junior catcher Malory Gerst (.632, eight runs, 10 RBIs), junior second baseman Steph Seibert (.368, 10 runs, eight RBIs), senior left fielder Ashley Fratto (.375, six RBIs), junior first baseman Katie Gales (.333), senior third baseman Demi Lewis (.364, three RBIs) and junior pitcher Olivia Dixon (.357 batting average with four runs scored).
Pitching duties have been split between Dixon and sophomore pitcher Rachel Donovan.