West Xtra: West Allegheny seeking consistency on the field

HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL

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There have been plenty of ups and downs this season for the West Allegheny High School softball team.

There was an opening-game loss to rival Montour and a tough 2-3 start. There was a stretch at midseason where the Indians won five consecutive games scoring 56 runs along the way.

That was followed by dropping two out of three games. Then on Saturday West Allegheny went on the road and won a non-section game against an 8-1 Ambridge Area team.

The ups and downs are no surprise to 11th-year coach Mindi McFate. She knew to expect the unexpected this season with only three returning starters and a rebuilt infield and outfield.

"I lost pretty much my entire infield and nearly all of my outfield [from last year]," McFate said. "Most had been starters for four years but we are doing OK. We are up and down but that comes with inexperience."

The Indians look like they will be finishing the regular season on one of the highs of this rollercoaster season. At 9-5 overall and 7-4 in Class AAA Section 2 heading into their section finale today against South Fayette, West Allegheny is assured a postseason berth and no worse than third place in the section.

West Allegheny has experience where it is most important, at pitcher and catcher with returning starters Brianna Lach, a senior pitcher, and junior catcher Brittany Ziegler. But the Indians also have to replace a starter where it can be quite difficult -- at shortstop.

Four-year starter Ashley Gerhart has graduated. She is now playing shortstop and leading off for Robert Morris University.

"That was definitely a big loss," McFate said. "Your shortstop is pretty vital."

Along with Lach and Ziegler, the other player back this season who saw considerable time a year ago is senior outfielder Morgan Partyka. She moved from left field to center field this season.

The nasty weather that delayed the start of the season affected everyone. But a young team such as West Allegheny felt the effects more than most.

The Indians did not travel south for a spring training tournament. Their first game of the season was their section opener against Montour, which had already played four games thanks to a preseason trip.

"Our very first time [playing] outside was our section opener," McFate said. "It was a rough start for all of us."

After the 2-3 start, West Allegheny started to hit its stride. It activated the mercy rule in a 16-2 win at Ringgold and in a doubleheader sweep of Carrick. It also edged Montour, 9-8, exacting some revenge from the early-season loss by the exact same score. With a section win over Moon Area, the Indians cemented their playoff berth.

"I told the girls, we have made the playoffs, so now is when we want to be playing our best softball," McFate said.

For the second consecutive season Lach is handling all the pitching for West Allegheny. She has the ability to throw five pitches -- fastball, changeup, drop curveball, curveball and screwball.

Sophomore McKenzie Johnsen bats leadoff and is hitting better than .600. She plays in the outfield and McFate calls her one of the biggest surprises of the season.

Lach and junior Emily Garvin are two of the more consistent bats in the lineup.

"One of our biggest strengths is that we have so many kids who can contribute," McFate said. "We don't need one kid to have a big day or we will lose."

hsbaseball


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