East Xtra: Experience, talent carries Hempfield

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Lack of experience should not be an issue for the Hempfield Area High School softball team this season.

Hempfield returns seven starters from its 2012 team plus another from its 2011 team who sat out last season with an injury. Junior outfielder Kasey Kolick returns to the Spartans after missing her entire sophomore season with a torn labrum.

Kolick is one of Hempfield's strongest hitters. She will rejoin a team that reached the WPIAL final last season.

"Not having Kasey was a bad problem last year," said Bob Kalp, in his 17th season as the Spartans coach. "This year it is a big plus. Kasey hits the ball hard. She gives us a good cleanup hitter to put in there."

Kolick batted .560 with 25 RBIs and four home runs as a freshman and was named to the all-section team.

She will anchor a lineup that also features senior shortstop Justyne Falbo, senior second baseman Callie Madden, senior catcher Madi Knizner and junior center fielder Alaina Montgomery.

Falbo is one of the top high school bowlers in the state. She plans to bowl in college. Falbo and Montgomery were both named to the all-section team last season. Falbo batted .400 last season with 14 RBIs. Montgomery batted .418 and scored 20 runs from the leadoff position. Madden scored 17 runs last season and committed only one error while playing second base. Knizner batted .391 with 14 RBIs last season.

Hempfield was 18-6 last season and shared the Class AAAA Section 1 title with Norwin. The Spartans are ranked No. 2 in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings, but they opened their season with a 2-0 loss at Mount Pleasant in non-section action.

"Last year is last year," Kalp said. "They have to perform. You are only as good as your last game. On paper we look pretty good but the last time I checked, games are not played on paper. We have to go out and perform."

With Knizner at catcher, Madden and Falbo as middle infielders and senior pitcher Hope Pehrson returning, the Spartans are strong up the middle.

Pehrson, a Seton Hill University recruit, was 8-2 last season with an ERA of 1.24 while splitting innings with Karilynn Null. She held opposing hitters to a .239 batting average. Pehrson will once again split innings, this time with sophomore Taylor Barlow. In limited varsity action last season Barlow was 1-0 while not allowing a run and holding opponents to a .111 batting average.

Pehrson was shut down last season before the playoffs after experiencing right arm issues.

"I imagine Hope will take the bulk of the innings this season," Kalp said. "She is still somewhat limited so we have to kind of monitor her arm day to day."

Pehrson will be unable to pitch on back-to-back days.

Senior first baseman Kelly Mahoney and sophomore designated player Michaele LeDonne are also returning starters. Mahoney batted .250 and LeDonne batted .322.

Sophomore third baseman Kelsie Hendrick and senior right fielder Taylor Spangler are first-year starters. Hendrick and Spangler batted .403 and .339 respectively last season in junior varsity action.

"We should be pretty good," Kalp said. "We haven't gotten outside much so it is difficult to tell. The gym has its value, but it is very different outside."

The section race should be competitive once again. Hempfield, No. 4 Norwin and No. 5 Greater Latrobe are all ranked in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings. Franklin Regional won the Section 2 title last season and the Panthers move into Section 1 this year.

"Latrobe and Norwin are going to be very good," Kalp said. "Franklin always has a lot of hitters. Penn-Trafford and Connellsville are always decent. It is anybody's section.

"I don't think the section will be settled in the first round. Some year a dominant team will have a three-game lead after the first round, that is not happening this year."

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