Riverside wrapped up its section schedule with no blemishes in the loss column and nearly no blemishes in the run column either.
The Panthers (14-0, 12-0 before Wednesday's non-section regular-season finale against Butler Area) were one of the most dominant defensive teams in the WPIAL with a veteran infield playing behind senior pitcher Kirsten Wilson.
The only team to score against the Panthers all season was Mohawk. Riverside defeated Mohawk, 9-5 and 4-1. As for everyone else, Wilson and the Panthers shut them out.
This was Riverside's first perfect section season since 2008.
"We were a young team last year and we had everyone back but one. We worked hard last year and this year it was going to pay off but I never thought we would be undefeated," veteran coach Pam McCarty said.
Wilson has had a special season. She has pitched every inning for the Panthers. She is 14-0 with 161 strikeouts. Wilson has accepted a scholarship to play softball at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. She is also one of the best offensive players in the WPIAL. Wilson was batting .519 this season with an on-base percentage of .750, both of which led the team.
Wilson played first base for Riverside as a freshman and a sophomore before moving to pitcher last season. She has a repertoire that includes a rise ball, screwball and drop-curve and she can hit her spots consistently. When opponents put the ball in play, there is a strong defense backing up Wilson.
"This is probably one of the best defenses we have ever had," McCarty said. "Our first baseman, Natalie Pritts, has just made some phenomenal plays this season."
Pritts, a junior and returning starter at first, was batting .511, second on the team behind Wilson. Wilson bats third and Pritts bats fourth in the lineup.
The rest of the infield consists of junior third baseman Morgan McElwain, sophomore shortstop Logan Snyder and junior second baseman Brooke Barker. Senior Nicole Mansfield starts at catcher. Wilson and Mansfield are the only seniors on the team.
"Our very first meeting every season with the kids, we set goals," McCarty said. "Our first goal is winning the section title, second is the WPIAL and third is states."
The Panthers are a third of the way home. Things will get much tougher in the postseason, but Riverside is fully prepared to play "small ball" and win a close game if need be.
Although Riverside's record is dominant, the results have often been close. The Panthers won three 1-0 games and two 2-0 games.
On back-to-back days in early April, Riverside found a way to scratch out consecutive 1-0 wins against New Brighton and Beaver Area. In the second meeting against the two teams, both on the road, Riverside edged both teams, 2-0.
"The girls handle it well," McCarty said. "We tell them, when you get into the playoffs, small ball counts. You are going to win 1-0 or 2-0. There are not going to be these runaway games. I believe our section is really tough. There are four good teams that we battled with this year and that is nice -- that prepares you."
The outfield consists of sophomore left fielder Nicole Kranz, sophomore center fielder Caitlin Wass and junior right fielder Andrea Lippman. Freshman designated player Cassie Barker has been a pleasant surprise for the Panthers, batting .438.
On Monday night in a non-section game Riverside went on the road and won 1-0 at defending PIAA Class AA champion Neshannock.
Neshannock was the last team to defeat Riverside. Last season the Panthers reached the WPIAL semifinals where they lost to Greensburg Central Catholic. One week later they lost, 3-2, to Neshannock in the third-place consolation game.
Neshannock plays in Class A this season after moving down but there is no shortage of title contenders in Class AA, Riverside included.
Chartiers-Houston (15-0, 12-0) and Deer Lakes (15-0, 14-0) finished Class AA play undefeated while Seton-LaSalle (12-1, 10-0) was undefeated in its section. Chartiers-Houston is the defending WPIAL Class A champion and Deer Lakes is the defending WPIAL Class AA champion.