North Xtra: Shaler talented, but needs to mature

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Shaler Area's veteran softball coach Skip Palmer has had his fair share of talented teams over the years and this year's group is one of the younger ones but it may also be one of his most athletic.

"They are probably the best athletes I have had in years," Palmer said. "They are just very, very young."

Palmer gushes about the potential of this group especially of the returning pitcher-catcher battery of sophomore pitcher Brianna Dobson and junior catcher A.J. Nichols.

"They push each other, which is good," Palmer said. "They have been with me now for two years and I got another year out of A.J. and two more from Bri. It has been a good experience so far."

Dobson is a perfect example of the athleticism of the team. She is one of the more athletic pitchers in the WPIAL and a major bat in the Titans lineup.

"She is a great athlete and a good kid who works hard," Palmer said. "I got two more years with her and really looking forward to it. Now she is understanding more of how we call the pitches and she has become a student of the game."

Dobson was named to the all-section team last season as a freshman. She hit a home run already this season and had four RBIs in a win against Fox Chapel.

Shaler is ranked No. 3 in WPIAL Class AAAA. The Titans had an early season wakeup call with a season-opening section loss at North Hills, 5-4. Shaler swept the Indians last season winning by 8 and 11 runs.

"It was very cold that day but it was just as cold for the other team," Palmer said. "We are young. That first game was an experience."

Shaler (3-2, 2-2) bounced back with back-to-back wins against Hampton and Fox Chapel, 11-1 and 11-4. The Titans then shut out Butler, 1-0, Monday before dropping a 5-4 decision against Seneca Valley Tuesday.

The Titans will have to replace Maddie Mulig, a four-year starter at shortstop and an all-section choice last season.

"Maddie was the leader on the team for a couple of years," Palmer said. "I miss her just being a kid on the team but we will be OK."

Just like he did five years ago when he inserted Mulig into the starting lineup at shortstop as a freshman, Palmer inserted freshman Lauren Miller at shortstop this season.

"She is really coming along," Palmer said.

Dobson, sophomore Jacey Schott and junior Haley Dengler are the top three bats in the lineup. Schott bats leadoff ahead of Dengler and Dobson who bat second and third.

Palmer hopes to take advantage of his team's athleticism this season. The athleticism of his players offers Palmer the luxury of being able to move players around if need be.

"I got a couple girls who are on the basketball team and some others play other sports," Palmer said. "These kids are just very good athletes, it helps to have that.

"One of the things we have found is the kids can play multiple positions and it makes it real easy if something happens, you can always interchange something. We have a bunch of kids who can play different positions."

A good example of that is Nichols. Along with catching, Nichols can also pitch, something she did during fall ball. Along with Dobson and Nichols, the other returning starters are Dengler in center field and junior Rachel Nyman at second base.

Shaler was scheduled to return to section play today at North Allegehny.

"As far as I know it is North Allegheny and Seneca Valley," Palmer said when asked about the top section title contenders. "They both have a lot of kids back from last year."


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