The Shaler Area softball team looks younger than usual this season but its spot in the standings looks awfully familiar.
The youthful Titans were 10-4 overall and 9-2 in Class AAAA Section 3 heading into their section finale that was scheduled for Wednesday against Pine-Richland. They were a half-game behind section-leader North Allegheny (11-1, 10-1).
Shaler is young where most teams can least afford to be young, up the middle. Sophomore catcher A.J. Nichols catches for freshman pitcher Brianna Dobson. Sophomore Haley Dengler starts in center field.
Not only is the young Titans trio holding their own, they are thriving.
"We have been surprised, I have been very surprised," eighth-year coach Skip Palmer said.
Shaler won its first four games of the season and its first seven section games to take command of the Section 3 race. The Titans looked well on their way to retaining their section crown but the youth turned to inexperience down the homestretch as Shaler dropped consecutive section contests to Seneca Valley and North Allegheny, which put the Tigers in the Section 3 driver's seat.
After splitting non-section games against McDowell (a 7-1 victory) and Hempfield (a 5-2 loss), Shaler entered its section finale having lost three of four.
"We are young, very young and make mistakes sometime," Palmer said.
In the loss at Hempfield Monday, Shaler made four errors.
"It was a good performance except for the errors," Palmer said. "We should have beaten them, 2-1, but we made four errors."
Although the Titans are young up the middle for the most part, they do have a senior four-year starter at shortstop in Maddi Mulig.
"Maddi has been a rock," Palmer said. "She is the one we put everything around. She has been a solid part of this team and she is our team leader."
Mulig, who will play next season at Penn State Behrend, bats third for the Titans.
Dobson bats fifth in the lineup. In addition to being one of the big surprises in Class AAA with her pitching ability, Dobson is also leading Shaler in batting average. She is hitting nearly .500.
"She has pitched very well," Palmer said. "I would say she is a finesse pitcher -- she hits her location all the time. She is not a big strikeout pitcher yet, but she is going to be."
Senior second baseman Julia Strackhouse is another returning starter in the middle infield. She is a three-year starter. She moved from third base to second base this season.
Seniors Haley Stedeford and Taylor Brown are two of the Titans' four senior starters. Stedeford plays in the outfield while Brown plays at first base. Stedeford will play next season at Carlow University while Brown will play at Thiel.
Nichols bats cleanup while fellow sophomore Dengler bats leadoff. Sophomore Racheal Nyman starts at third base and sophomore Mia Sipple starts in left field.
Regardless of age, Shaler has been known to be a perennial WPIAL title contender under Palmer. This year with a wide open Class AAAA field, the Titans could make a run at the WPIAL final.
"If somebody gets hot at the right time they could make a run," Palmer said. "Don't count us out either, we are pretty tough to beat at times."