West Xtra: Experienced Bridgers in section title hunt

HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL


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Ambridge Area softball coach Jim Huwar welcomed back eight starters this season, which appears to be great news for Bridgers fans ... not so much for opponents.

He has had similar situations in the past when he returned nearly his entire starting roster. It happened in 2005 and that team won a WPIAL and PIAA championship while going 24-2.

Huwar is not ready to compare the two teams but the 2013 Bridgers certainly have promise.

"I think our other group in 2004 and 2005, they played together a lot longer," Huwar said. "They were a little more consistent, they had played together for seven years. We had those kids for a long time. This group seems to be coming along and hopefully they start to jell pretty soon."

Through nine games Ambridge is 8-1 including a 7-1 mark in Class AAA Section 1. The Bridgers opened the season with six wins in a row before losing to New Castle in the second meeting between the two teams. Ambridge remains atop the section standings ahead of Ellwood City (5-5, 5-3), Blackhawk (6-4, 5-3), New Castle (5-6, 4-4) and Central Valley (4-6, 3-5).

"They are doing OK. They have seemed to come along since the weather has broken a little bit," Huwar said. "Hopefully, we get some type of continuity so we can get the hitting and the fielding together."

While many of the names are the same this season from a group that went 17-3 and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, the overall look of the team is different. Many players have switched positions. Senior pitcher Hannah Smith was 17-3 with 100 strikeouts last season but it has been sophomore pitcher Kelly Haslett who is pitching the bulk of the innings this season.

"We are going to pitch both girls," Huwar said. "We are either going to alternate starts or pitch both in games."

Haslett has made great strides since her freshman season.

"She has started to come along with a couple different pitches," Huwar said. "Pitching at 43 feet is a big difference in high school, more than travel ball [40 feet], because you are playing against kids, two, three and four years older than you."

Through eight games, both pitchers were effective. Smith had two saves, nine strikeouts and a 1.81 ERA through 15 innings while Haslett was 7-1 with 30 strikeouts and a 2.00 ERA through 43 innings.

"I think Hannah has more of the velocity and Kelly is more of a junk pitcher who can hit her spot with different pitches," Huwar said.

When Smith is not pitching, she plays center field while Haslett can also play first base.

Offensively, Smith, senior catcher Jaymee Humbert and sophomore second baseman Heather Mueller have led the way. Smith bats cleanup, hitting .538 with 11 RBIs and a team-high 11 runs. She has two doubles, two triples and three home runs to give her a slugging percentage of 1.115.

Humbert is another power bat in the lineup. She also has three home runs and has driven in a team-high 13 runs while scoring seven runs and batting .481 with an .852 slugging percentage.

Mueller has scored nine runs and stolen a team-high 12 bases while batting .400. Senior middle infielder Hannah Krokonko has seven runs, six RBIs, six stolen bases and a .360 batting average while senior infielder Lauren Sivewright is batting .364.

"We move the kids a good bit depending on who is pitching at the time," Huwar said. "The big thing for us is defense -- we have a lot of kids from last year who really weren't playing in their same position as they are now."

Ambridge has shown the ability to score in droves as it did with 10-run outbursts against Ellwood City, New Castle, Blackhawk and Hopewell and it has shown it can win close, low-scoring games like it did in a 3-2 decision at Central Valley.

Huwar expects more of the latter once the postseason rolls around

"In the playoffs everything is going to be closer," Huwar said. "There is better pitching and better defense. Hopefully, if you hit the ball, things can open up for you."

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