East Xtra: Jeannette gets 'selfish,' wins Section 3-A title

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When it comes to section titles, the Jeannette softball team does not like to share.

A year ago, the Jayhawks and Leechburg shared the section title. Despite having two wins against Leechburg during the regular season the teams shared the section crown with identical 10-2 records, as per WPIAL policy.

"They felt a little cheated last year," Jayhawks coach Zac Karas said. "We were both 10-2 but we beat them twice and I think the girls considered that we won the section, but that is not how the books counted it."

This season there is no interpretation of rules necessary -- Jeannette (11-3, 11-0 before Wednesday's game against Vincentian) won its first 11 section games of the season to guarantee an outright Section 3-A title.

"Last year was the first section title in a long time and the first playoff win of all time," said Karas, who was an assistant coach last year before taking over head coaching duties this season. "You could tell how special this team is this year. I think the girls definitely wanted this outright section title. You could just tell what it means."

Jeannette was scheduled to complete a suspended game from Saturday against Vincentian as the Jayhawks go for an unblemished 12-0 section record. The Vincentian game was suspended in the second inning, scoreless.

Jeannette clinched the outright section title just the way Karas wanted to see them do it, in convincing fashion. In the two games prior, Jeannette played what Karas described as sloppy games, although the team was able to prevail against Springdale and The Ellis School.

"We played a couple games that we ended up winning, but I was not satisfied," Karas said. "It was kind of sloppy, we made more mistakes that, if it was in the playoffs, then those would have been magnified. That is what I told them: the last two games we didn't play the way we wanted to play."

Karas said his team entered the St. Joseph game on Monday with the mindset that it was a playoff game.

His team responded to the challenge, winning 17-0 in three innings.

Another regular-season highlight for the Jayhawks was a 7-3 victory against Leechburg to complete the regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils.

"I am satisfied with how they get up for big games," Karas said. "I know Leechburg had us circled on their schedule after the first time we went in there and beat them."

With three capable pitchers on the roster, Karas had planned on using more of a rotation this season but senior Nicole Hall has emerged as a go-to pitcher who will get the start in Jeannette's first playoff game.

"Nicole Hall has been pitching extremely well," Karas said. "She has been dealing. I had planned on using the three of them, but Nicole has been doing really well.

"Mary Katherine Paulone and Scarlett Stein have both had some relief appearances, they came in ready to go and I am proud of them for playing other positions when it is time. Nicole will be starting our first playoff game, she has earned it. She has pitched the best that I have seen her. I have been watching her since she has been at the school and this has definitely been her best year."

Stein has been making her impact felt offensively where she is batting close to .600 while leading the team in RBIs. She started the season batting eighth before moving to third in the lineup. She was 3 for 3 in the section title-clinching win vs. St. Joseph.

"We moved her to third and she is still crushing the ball," Karas said. "She is really coming into form. She can really hit the ball. It took her a few games to get rounding into form but she is definitely doing it now. She really just hits the heck out of the ball."

Senior Monique Redman is also batting around .600 and she is second on the team in RBIs. Senior Brianna Crawford leads the team with three home runs.

As far as playoff seeding is concerned, Karas thinks his team has a chance at a first-round playoff bye.

"I don't think our section gets a lot of love in terms of how competitive it is," Karas said. "It's looked at as the weakest, but we have some good teams, we have some competitive teams.

"But I have been going back and forth -- do I really want a bye and then sit around a week before you actually get a game? It is what it is and we are going to take whatever it is. If we have to play a first-round game, then we'll play a first-round game."

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