East/South Xtra: Serra continues to build softball program

HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL

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Through five games this season his Serra Catholic softball team was sitting at 4-1 overall, but coach Mike Elko knew it was time to make a decision.

Junior pitcher Nicole Jezerski had started the first five games and compiled a 4-1 record. She was successful last season going 3-2 in a backup role. But Jezerski was also an asset at second base and freshman pitcher Sam Andrekanic had shown plenty of promise.

So, even though nothing appeared to be broken, Elko took a chance and made a change. Jezerski moved to second base and Andrekanic took over at starting pitcher. It was a calculated risk that was made with long-term goals this season in mind.

The calculated risk has produced results.

Andrekanic finished the regular season 7-5 and the Eagles went 10-6 overall, 9-5 in Class A Section 2, good for third place behind co-champions Carmichaels and Frazier to earn a WPIAL playoff spot.

In the playoffs ninth-seeded Serra won its first postseason game since 2009 with a 7-3 victory against No. 8 Bishop Canevin last Thursday at West Mifflin.

Serra's playoff run -- and season -- ended Monday when the Eagles (11-7) lost to Neshannock, 14-0, in a quarterfinal game at North Hills. Neshannock (16-2) is the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs and received a first-round bye in the 15-team field.

Despite the loss, it was a productive season for the Eagles and the pitching change was a potential major turning point this season.

"With the makeup of our team, we were just trying to put the best team out there," Elko said. "It was a little tough, we talked about it as coaches and players. Nicole gave us a better chance at second base. She is really good at covering the bunt."

Jezerski was 4-1 with 26 strikeouts over 29 innings and a 3.14 ERA. Andrekanic finished the regular season with 68 strikeouts over 77 innings and a 4.09 ERA. Combined, both pitchers only walked 20 batters this season.

Looking around at the stands at the neutral-field site at West Mifflin during the first-round playoff game, Elko saw just how far this program has come. There to watch and root for the Eagles were the Serra baseball team, other students, alumni, parents and coaches from other teams at the high school.

"There were a couple hundred people," Elko said. "It was like being at a football game. We were really, really happy. The girls were really excited -- it has been a magical season."

The scene at West Mifflin last Thursday did not seem possible four years ago when Elko took over. The Eagles were coming off a season where they reached the WPIAL quarterfinals but a majority of that team had graduated.

"It has been a pretty tough road," Elko said. "I inherited almost nothing. When I first got here, everyone had to learn my system."

Senior Haley Havrilla has been there through it all. She is the only senior on the team. A four-year starter at catcher, Havrilla had a banner season this year. After batting .400 last year she led the Eagles with a .491 batting average from the leadoff spot without striking out once in 70 plate appearances.

Despite batting in the leadoff spot, Havrilla has still driven in 15 runs while also drawing 13 walks. She has a scholarship to play softball at Carlow University next season.

"We have been working hard from fall ball," Elko said. "The girls have been working hard since September until now and we are in a very tough conference."

The "tough conference" to which Elko referred -- Section 2 -- featured Carmichaels and Frazier, the teams seeded No. 3 and No. 4 in the WPIAL Class A playoff field.

Eight of Serra's nine starters play travel ball. Nearly Elko's entire infield plays on his travel team, the Pittsburgh Gators. That group includes junior first baseman Amy McNeil, junior shortstop Anna Quattrone and Jezerski. Sophomore third baseman Ally Taylor also starts in the infield.

McNeil led the team with 19 RBIs. She batted .429 with five doubles and five triples. Taylor batted .344 this season with 11 RBIs and six doubles. Quattrone batted .322 with 14 RBIs and four doubles.

The outfield starters were juniors Christina Pici and Morgan Willaman and freshman Gia Husnick. Willaman batted .327 with one home run. Husnick had four of her team's five home runs this year and 15 RBIs with a .333 batting average.

The Eagles scored 129 runs on 159 hits this season. As a team they batted .316 with 28 doubles.

"Things went great, the girls really overachieved," Elko said. "It has been a great mood with all 14 girls on the team. They played together and there was a ton of excitement."

hsbaseball


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