Not many programs can replace a Division I pitcher and all-state catcher and remain a WPIAL title contender, but the Greensburg Salem softball team has done just that this season.
Despite graduating one of the top pitcher/catcher batteries in the state with pitcher Jayne Oberdorf and catcher Taylor Mehan, the Golden Lions are still very much a contender to defend their WPIAL Class AAA title from last season.
Stepping in for Oberdorf, a Marist recruit, is senior Melissa Wagner.
Wagner started at third base last season and pitched in three games where she went 2-1, including a win against Greater Latrobe.
"She has a real nice drop curve that seems to be working for her, kind of breaks on the batter's knees," coach Jody Morgan said. "It is a pretty hard pitch to hit. You don't replace a Division I pitcher like Oberdorf, but the Wagner girl is throwing 62 [mph]."
Wagner threw two-hitters against her first two opponents and had 16 strikeouts in two games.
Stepping in for Mehan at catcher is sophomore Lauren McLaughlin. She saw significant playing time toward the end of last season. McLaughlin has thrown out two base runners in her first two games.
Wagner and McLaughlin have the benefit of being surrounded by an experienced veteran team with seven returning starters.
"We have seven kids coming back and to me that is the key," Morgan said. "Even though we have a new pitcher, she played in the lineup last season and batted every game. She is not really new."
Greensburg Salem still has an Oberdorf upon whom it can rely in junior shortstop Claire Oberdorf, Jayne's younger sister, who appears poised for a breakthrough season.
A returning starter, Claire Oberdorf, hit two home runs in her first two games. She had a double and a triple against Mount Pleasant and was intentionally walked in her last two at-bats. She only made one out in her first seven at-bats this season.
"Claire is all-everything," Morgan said. "She is just unbelievable."
She has already given a verbal commitment to Marist where she hopes to join her sister in two years.
Claire Oberdorf bats leadoff in the Greensburg Salem lineup.
"Everybody bats power fourth, I bat my power one, two and three," Morgan said. "You want them to get more at-bats."
Behind Claire Oberdorf in the lineup is senior center fielder Karly Mellinger, an all-section choice last season.
So far this season Greensburg Salem is picking up right where it left off last season when it won 22 games, captured the section crown with a 12-0 record, won the WPIAL finals and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.
The Golden Lions (3-0, 3-0) opened the season with an impressive 10-0 win at Mount Pleasant in six innings. One day later they followed it up with a 6-1 win against Albert Gallatin.
They defeated Uniontown, 3-1, Tuesday and have grabbed the lead in Section 4-AAA.
"So far we are looking pretty good," Morgan said. "I was surprised we beat Mount Pleasant so convincingly. It just seems these kids, since they won it last year, they just don't want to lose. I think we will be in good shape. Right now we might not be as strong as we were at the end of last year but come May, we might be back in this."
At second base, senior Kellie Hutchinson is a returning starter who gives Greensburg Salem one of the best double-play combinations in the WPIAL along with Claire Oberdorf.
Sophomore Maggie Kallock is a returning starter in left field. Kallock hit a grand slam last season in the WPIAL first round that allowed Greensburg Salem to escape a near upset against Highlands and eventually springboard them to the WPIAL final.
Kallock bats fifth in the lineup ahead of returning starters, sophomore third baseman Caitlin Stoner and senior first baseman Madison Hantz. Stoner moves from right field to third base this season and Hantz moves into the field after playing as the designated player last season. Senior Rachael Gerstel is a new starter in right field.
"I think Uniontown and Brownsville will be tough," Morgan said in describing the section race. "I think both of them are going to be better than they were last year and I think Mount Pleasant, even though we beat them,10-0, is going to beat some teams. They are not bad."