West Xtra: West Allegheny looking dangerous as playoffs loom

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West Allegheny clinched a playoff berth this season by virtue of a third-place finish in Section 2-AAA.

It was the fourth consecutive third-place finish in the section for the Indians and after last season, playoff teams would be wise not to take this third-place team lightly.

As the third-place representative from Section 2-AAA last season, West Allegheny sprung upsets against section champions Mars Area and Elizabeth Forward to reach the WPIAL semifinals where the Indians narrowly fell to a section champion and eventual WPIAL champion, Greensburg Salem, 3-2.

In fact with a 5-1 win against West Mifflin in a third-place consolation game, the Indians defeated three WPIAL Class AAA section champions in the postseason last year. West Mifflin and Elizabeth Forward shared the Section 3-AAA title.

"Even though we are third in the section, we are WPIAL contenders," first-year coach Raquel Rugani said. "The girls know what it takes. They were very successful last year and they know what it takes to get to those later games in the playoffs. They got a taste of it last year and they want to get back there and go further."

West Allegheny clinched another third-place finish with an 8-4 record in Section 2-AAA. Overall, the Indians finished the regular season with a 10-4 record.

"Things came together really well this year," Rugani said. "They found their groove and they started to really pick it up and excel at the heart of the season. They are ready to go for the playoffs."

West Allegheny rode solid pitching and defense to the WPIAL semifinals last season. It shut out five opponents during the regular season and in five postseason games it allowed a total of nine runs.

If the Indians want to make a similar run this season, they will likely do so on the strength of their bats. West Allegheny scored 10 or more runs in seven of its 13 games this season. Last year it did so only three times in 21 games.

West Allegheny put together a six-game winning streak in the middle of the season that included victories against South Fayette, Montour and Ambridge. Back-to-back losses to close out the section season against Trinity on Saturday and South Fayette on Monday did little to mute the team's enthusiasm for postseason play.

The Indians were scheduled to close out the regular season with a non-section contest Thursday at Ellwood City.

"We had a lot of returners this year," Rugani said. "A lot of these girls have had varsity experience. They have a taste of the playoffs."

The one player without varsity experience, freshman Brooke Wilson, is hardly playing like a freshman. She started the season at second base, but after senior catcher Brittany Zeigler was lost for the season with a broken foot with three games remaining, Rugani moved Wilson to catcher.

She has handled catching duties as well as being one of the top contributors with the bat. Wilson had to replace Ziegler, a career .321 hitter with a .714 on-base percentage this year and one home run, the team's only one this season up until that point.

All Wilson did was bat .457 with a .761 on-base percentage and she also hit a home run. She also drove in 18 runs.

"She is definitely making some noise as a freshman," Rugani said.

Three other players along with Wilson are batting better than .400, junior right fielder Danna Heh (.484), sophomore shortstop Lexi Cogis (.462) and junior left fielder Taylor Hottenfeller (.419).

"Offensively the girls are just hungry to hit the ball," Rugani said. "They like to dominate. They had that taste last year to see what it's like and now this year they are taking it one step further and excelling even more."

Rugani was hoping to schedule non-section contests against Hopewell and Blackhawk before the WPIAL playoffs.

"Going into the playoffs, I really feel because of our section that we are sitting in a good position," Rugani said. "We have played [strong] competition all year. I feel that no matter who we face, we are going to be ready.

"We have seen competition year-round from Trinity, South Fayette, Montour, we have seen Ambridge. It is going to be interesting how we are seeded.

"My girls are ready for anything, they are ready to play."

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