Beaver's Ashley Kondracki connects with a pitch during WPIAL quarterfinal victory against Greensburg Central Catholic Monday.
By Ken Wunderley Tri-State Sports & News Service
It's been so long since Beaver Area High School was in the WPIAL softball playoffs that coach Butch Rousseau had to check with the athletic department to find its last postseason appearance.
He found out it was 1998.
With a 12-player roster that included only one senior and six freshmen, almost nobody expected the Bobcats to be a playoff contender this year.
In fact, Rousseau was the only one who believed otherwise.
"I realize how young this team is, but I really thought we had a chance to reach our goal of qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs," said Rousseau, now in his eighth year with the program, including six as head coach.
That's just what Rousseau's squad did -- qualify for the playoffs despite a starting lineup that included six freshmen. The Bobcats placed third in Class AA Section 5 and were seeded No. 13 in the 15-team bracket.
"Getting back to the playoffs was a big step for our program," Rousseau said. "Our performance in the playoffs is icing on the cake."
Beaver began its first playoff appearance in more than 15 years with a 10-3 upset of No. 4 seed Seton-LaSalle on May 14. The Bobcats recorded a second upset on Monday, as they posted a 7-2 victory against Greensburg Central Catholic, the No. 5 seed.
"Nobody expected us to get this far," Rousseau said. "It's been a lot of fun watching this team mature."
Rousseau's roster includes one senior, four juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen. All six freshmen are starting.
"Four of our freshmen play on travel teams and have played in some pretty big venues over the past four years, so they've been on the big stage before," Rousseau said.
The lone senior on Beaver's roster is second baseman Sarah Wachter.
"Sarah is a four-year starter," Rousseau said. "She's our leadoff hitter. She's really stepped up this year to provide the leadership we need with such a young team."
The only other returning starters are center fielder Katie Glass and catcher Bella Valent, both juniors. Glass is a three-year starter, while Valent is a second-year starter and cleanup hitter.
"Bella has a .430 average, five home runs and 11 RBIs," Rousseau said. "She set a school record last year with seven home runs. Katie is a good bunter with great speed. She's been steady in the outfield for us."
The top freshman has been pitcher Casey Farkasovsky, who has recorded 123 strikeouts.
"Casey is our 'Steady Eddie' both pitching and hitting," Rousseau said. "She leads the team with a .595 average and 18 RBIs. She's also tied Bella's school record with seven home runs."
Wachter is joined in the infield by three freshmen, twins Jennifer and Ashley Kondracki, and Jayda Justice. Ashley Kondracki is playing first base and has a .353 average. Jennifer Kondracki, a third baseman, has a .469 average as the team's No. 2 hitter. Justice is starting at shortstop.
The sixth freshman, Haley Champ, made her debut three weeks ago.
"Haley suffered a knee injury during volleyball season and had reconstructive surgery," Rousseau said. "I never thought I would see her back this season. She's been our designated hitter the last couple weeks."
Rousseau actually used Champ at third base in the quarterfinal game against Greensburg Central and moved Jennifer Kondracki to the outfield.
Others seeing significant playing time in the outfield are juniors Yamaly Jusino and Cassi Ross and freshman Ariadna Jusino. Sophomore Victoria Beighy has provided depth, but most of her playing time has been as a courtesy runner.
Beaver took a 12-6 record into Wednesday's semifinal game against top-seeded and defending champion Deer Lakes.
The winner advances to the WPIAL title game, which is scheduled for next Thursday at California University. The loser will play a third-place consolation game Tuesday.