North Xtra: Patience has its rewards for North Allegheny

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North Allegheny softball coach Rick Meister calls it "the spring of patience."

Practices have been moved inside, games have been postponed and schedules are hardly set in stone.

Although the weather has not cooperated, Meister's team has.

With seven starters back from a team that made a run to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game last season, the Tigers have weathered the storm with an 11-3 overall record and a 7-2 record in Section 3-AAAA to put them squarely in the mix in the race for the section title with the final few section games remaining on everyone's schedule.

They were locked in a three-way tie for the lead with Seneca Valley and Shaler Area through Tuesday.

North Allegheny was rained out of a scheduled visit to Shaler on Tuesday and is scheduled to play Pine-Richland at home today. The Tigers will close out section play May 5 at North Hills.

"You get all primed for a game and then you don't play it. You need that maturity to be ready," Meister said.

North Allegheny has plenty of maturity and experience. It only had to fill two positions, catcher and left field, from a team that won 18 games, reached the PIAA quarterfinals and captured an outright section title.

At pitcher, sisters Sami and Madi Beining return. Samantha, a senior, has started nine games and is 5-1. Madi, a sophomore, has started five games and is 6-1, with appearances in relief as well.

"It is nice from a softball standpoint, you can throw either of them out there and expect a quality start," Meister said. "The unique thing for us with them being sisters, they are also great friends. They truly do support one another."

Madi Beining got the start last Tuesday in a crucial game against Seneca Valley. The Raiders had won the first meeting, 9-4. In the second meeting, Madi Beining was the difference, going the distance in throwing a complete game, five-hit shutout.

It was the first section loss of the season for Seneca Valley and a loss by the Raiders to Shaler two days later created a three-way tie for first place.

Sami Beining has come through with her share of big games as well, including a three-hit complete game performance in a 2-1 win against Butler Area.

"There are a lot of similarities [between the sisters]," Meister said. "Madi is probably a little bit quicker, both rely on their control. They came up together, they have worked with the same coaches. They both have a variety of pitches and they have a very positive attitude. They are both very competitive. It is a joy to coach them."

With the graduation of Bonnie Pierson, the Beining sisters have thrown to two new catchers this season, senior Casey Ginocchi and sophomore Liz Scherer. There is another platoon at first base with juniors Erica Jelinek and Logann Woodley sharing time.

Junior second baseman Emily Hogan, senior shortstop Christine Scherer and senior third baseman Mary Funderlich are returning starters in the infield. Christine Scherer is Elizabeth's older sister.

Starting in the outfield is a trio of juniors, left fielder Mackenzie Gostomski, center fielder Laura Cotter and right fielder Anna Sardon. Gostomski, a new starter in the lineup, recently broke out of a hitting slump and came through with two hits in a game against Greater Latrobe, including a two-out two-run single.

Four seniors and six juniors see regular starting time for the Tigers.

"I think [experience] is important from a leadership standpoint," Meister said. "They have been there, they know what the expectations are."

As difficult as the section competition has been this season, the Tigers look forward to the challenges and Meister is well aware of how the tough section prepares a team for the postseason.

"North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Shaler all have identical records going into the last week," Meister said. "That is as even as it gets.

"That is the advantage of this section -- day to day you are always going to face playoff-caliber teams. There are teams in the section that won't make the playoffs that would probably make the playoffs in other sections. It prepares you for the playoffs -- you have to be on your game every day."

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