North Xtra: Hampton rebounds nicely from a very shaky start

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Teetering on the verge of a disastrous 0-4 start in section play, one of Hampton's senior leaders made a plea to her teammates.

Her teammates answered that plea with a resounding response and Hampton salvaged its season.

After losing its first three games of the season, Hampton was trailing, 5-0, in the top of the sixth inning at Knoch. An 0-4 start in Class AAA Section 5 could have very well meant a premature end to postseason aspirations.

Coming off the field after the bottom of the fifth inning, senior outfielder Paige Paskorz was visibly irritated.

"She came off the field upset, she told them we have two innings to go, let's wake up so to speak and play like we know we can," Hampton coach Ron Fedell said. "We are a pretty good hitting team and we hadn't done anything up until that point. Whatever she said to the kids, it worked."

Hampton scored three runs in the sixth and five in the seventh to storm back and surprise Knoch, 8-6, and begin the process of saving its season.

The Talbots registered back-to-back wins against Highlands and Kittanning in their next two section games and all of a sudden Hampton was 3-3 in the highly competitive section.

The Talbots (6-9) finished section play at 5-5 and in a four-way tie for second place. It needed to win April 30 at Highlands to clinch a playoff berth. Fedell had pegged Highlands the section favorite in the preseason but Hampton found a way to complete the sweep of the Golden Rams with a 9-6 win at Highlands.

WPIAL playoff pairings were to be announced Wednesday.

Before the regular season Fedell said if he could find a pitcher, his team should qualify for the playoffs. By the fourth game of the season he had found his pitcher and subsequently Hampton found its way into the postseason.

His starting pitcher from last season did not come out for the team this year. Fedell used a number of options on the mound before settling on senior Claire Welka by the fourth game of the season.

"Our senior pitcher stepped up and we have been able to climb back into the section race," Fedell said. "Claire has pitched for us in the past, she really worked hard in the offseason. She worked on her changeup and drop-curve and really established herself as one of the best pitchers in the WPIAL."

Welka finished the section schedule with a 5-2 record. She is one of the biggest reasons Hampton is back in the playoffs after a tough 4-14 campaign last season that ended with a last-place finish in the section.

"Claire can move the ball around," Fedell said. "She changes speeds; she never throws the same pitch in the same spot. She is a smart pitcher, she knows when to go inside, when to go outside. Claire is a very heady pitcher."

Senior first baseman Amber Martinelli leads the team in RBIs and batting average. She bats third in the lineup.

Sophomore catcher Megan Thorton is a first-year player and one of the big surprises this season. Hitting fifth in the lineup, she is batting around .380 as well as handling all the catching duties after moving from third base to replace the injured Rachael Pletz.

Junior shortstop Breanna Lent bats leadoff where she is batting around .350. Paskorz, batting out of the cleanup spot, has come up with crucial two-out RBIs throughout the season.

Hampton lost non-section games Monday and Tuesday to Plum, 3-2, and South Park, 12-2. The Talbots were scheduled to close out the regular season Wednesday against Shaler.

The teams from Section 5 in the playoffs could make some noise. The section was extremely balanced with a four-way tie for second place behind section champion Mars Area. Hampton was able to sweep the regular-season series against preseason favorite Highlands but it was also swept by Indiana. Neither Indiana nor Knoch qualified for the playoffs, both losing out on the tiebreaker system. Hampton lost, 8-7, at Mars and turned around and beat the Planets, 9-1, a few weeks later.

"All the teams [in the section] were pretty balanced," Fedell said. "It was very competitive."



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