South Xtra: West Mifflin hunting section softball title


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The incoming freshman class for the 2010 high school softball season came to a West Mifflin Area program that had struggled in previous years.

They arrived during coach Casey Phillips' second season with the team. The prior season, the Titans finished 2-10 and in last place in Section 3-AAA.

The future Class of 2013 featured four players who would become four-year starters and help transform the program. Last season, during their senior year, four-year starters Amanda Leschak, Sydnei Zalice, Marla Small and Kaylyn Andress, helped lead West Mifflin to a share of the Section 3-AAA title and to the WPIAL semifinals.

The foursome has since graduated, but the bar has been raised. The 2014 Titans are postseason bound for the second consecutive year. Through Tuesday, West Mifflin was 12-2 overall and sitting atop Section 3-AAA with a 7-2 section record ahead of Southmoreland (8-4, 6-3) and Elizabeth Forward (9-5, 6-3).

"It has been a real exciting year so far," Phillips said. "We graduated four four-year starters. Those four came in as freshmen and bought into everything that myself and the coaches were preaching. It all came together for them their senior year."

The graduations of Leschak, Zalice, Small and Andress left holes at center field, second base, shortstop and third base but West Mifflin returned five other starters.

"We have a good combination of kids coming back and some young kids who put themselves in a position in the offseason to be ready to play," Phillips said.

West Mifflin opened section play with a 1-0 win at Belle Vernon Area on March 27, but fell to 1-1 in section play with a 6-2 loss at Elizabeth Forward the next day. Since then the Titans have won nine of 10, including a 6-4 win against Elizabeth Forward last week. In the win against Elizabeth Forward, West Mifflin overcame a 4-0 deficit to score five runs in the sixth inning. Alyssa Cairnis' two-run triple was the difference in the game.

Senior pitcher Paige Flore had 15 strikeouts to help West Mifflin snap a four-game losing streak to the Warriors.

"We are healthy and I think we are hitting our stride," Phillips said. "The EF game was really big. That is always a big game with those guys, it has become a neighborhood rivalry.

"We were down early, but instead of folding, our girls rose to the occasion. They were focused and they believed and they knew how important of a game it was going to be for us."

Flore is a four-year starter at pitcher and one of the best in the WPIAL. Through 13 games she is 11-2 with 117 strikeouts in 89 innings with an ERA of 0.94.

"My wife was at the EF game and when we came home she told me, 'Paige Flore is the most intense human being I have ever seen' and that is not downplaying it at all," Phillips said.

"She is a fiery ballplayer. She is physically tough and mentally tough. She is a great leader. It is a luxury having one of the best pitchers in the WPIAL."

The other half of the battery is Cairins, a junior catcher in the midst of a monster season at the plate. She is batting .489 with 19 RBIs and 14 runs. Senior Crystal Cook is a four-year starter at first base. She is batting .386 with 16 RBIs.

Junior Lauren Ackerman was the designated player last year and she moves to second base this season. Out of the cleanup spot in the order, Ackerman is batting .327 with 13 RBIs and a home run. Batting behind Ackerman are two new starters, sophomore shortstop Amber Cook and junior third baseman Kacey Larson.

A trio of juniors starts in the outfield, left fielder Shannon Davis, center fielder Chelsea Hess and right fielder Taylor Lapko. Hess started in right field last season but moved to center this season. Davis and Lapko are also returning starters.

"The four seniors we graduated last year did a lot to change the culture of the program," Phillips said. "Our kids now have bought into it and we have great senior leadership."

The senior leadership is provided by Flore, Cook and senior designated player Brooke Lowe.

"The seniors have carried the torch that those four did last year," Phillips said. "The seniors are here to win and they have a bunch of other kids buying into it and following their example."


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