East Xtra: Jeannette in control of section title race

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Entering his first season as head coach of the Jeannette softball team, Zac Karas had an inkling in the offseason this could be a special regular season.

He was around last season as an assistant on the team when the Jayhawks shared a section title with Leechburg and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals.

With seven returning starters, the chance to exceed 2013 was certainly there.

"Last year we were pretty good," Karas said. "I kind of knew it was going to be a special year. They are playing their hearts out. We are pitching great and hitting great, one through nine in the order. That is something a Single-A team usually doesn't have the luxury of."

The Jayhawks have stormed to the top of Section 3-A by reeling off seven consecutive section wins to start the season. They were 7-0 with some breathing room in the section ahead of Vincentian Academy (4-1), Leechburg (3-2) and Riverview (4-5). The Jayhawks, 7-3 overall, were scheduled to play Leechburg Wednesday.

Jeannette activated the mercy rule against Riverview, Springdale, Vincentian, Ellis School and St. Joseph all within the section. They won a huge section showdown, 3-1, at Leechburg, last year's section co-champ. An 8-5 win last Thursday at Riverview completed the regular-season sweep of the Raiders.

Senior Nicole Hall is handling the pitching duties for the third consecutive season.

"She has been doing really well," Karas said. "This is her senior year and this is kind of what she has been working up to. I am proud of the way she has gone out there and pitched."

Hall has made a knack of getting out of late-inning jams. Against Riverview last Thursday, Jeannette was clinging to an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning and Riverview had the top of its lineup due up. Hall enticed two pop outs and a ground out using just six pitches to end the game.

"Nicole is mostly velocity," Karas said. "She is really good with her control and good under pressure. She doesn't get frazzled. If people make mistakes behind her, she is cool and calm on the mound. She has learned to throw a curveball, too."

Karas has a luxury not afforded to many Single-A coaches. He has three more-than-capable arms. Along with Hall, freshman Scarlett Stein and sophomore Mary Katherine Paulone can also pitch.

"It is one of the best problems to have," Karas said. "I have two other pitchers I would feel confident in."

Paulone tossed a perfect game last season and this year she picked up a win in the Springdale game.

Junior first baseman Monica Carl is a returning all-section player. Karas toyed with the idea of moving Carl to shortstop to replace Delaney Cortazzo, the other all-section choice for Jeannette last year who graduated, but he kept Carl at first base.

The biggest reason Carl was at first base last season was because of how hard Cortazzo would throw the ball from the middle infield.

"Delaney threw the ball so hard it was hard finding people willing to catch the ball at first base," Karas said. "Monica is just a really hard worker. She makes contact and puts the ball in play and plays real good solid defense. She catches everything over there."

Although Carl did not take Cortazzo's place at shortstop, she did move from second to third in the batting lineup to take Cortazzo's former spot.

Other returning starters include senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Sarah Pitzer, senior third baseman Brianna Crawford who bats in the five spot and senior catcher Monique Redman.

Paulone starts in left field and Stein plays second base when the two are not pitching. Stein was 13 for her last 16 at the plate entering this week. The new starters are sophomore center fielder Kayshaunna Crosby and freshman right fielder Kara Johnston.

Stein and Redman are leading the team, batting around .600 while Stein, Crawford and Redman lead the team in RBIs.

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