East Xtra: Penn-Trafford adapts well to new coach

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It has been a long journey for the Penn-Trafford softball team to reach the point they were at this week.

The third-seeded Warriors advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals after a 6-2 win against sixth-seeded Plum on Monday and were scheduled to play second-seeded Shaler Area on Wednesday.

But it was the issues off the field that the Warriors had to square out. Monica Cox is in her first year as the Warriors head coach and the players took a while to adjust to her system.

"They were not happy in the beginning but they are great now," Cox said. "I love all the kids on the team. They do whatever you ask them to do. Our bench is a huge key. The way they cheer is instrumental to the success. No one gets down.

"I am very structured and they weren't used to that. It took them a while to warm up to me. They will never give an attitude or yell back at me. They are good kids who want to win."

One thing that helps release the tension in the locker room is winning, something the Warriors have been doing a lot of this year.

Penn-Trafford was 15-3 before Wednesday's game and has won games in almost every way imaginable.

"We have good girls," Cox said. "We have good talent but they were never told to pull within. There have been a number of games where we were behind and came back in the fifth inning or later. We always had the talent. If you have no talent, you aren't going to do well. They have pulled together with one big heart and that is what they have."

Their win against Plum already clinched them a better season than last year when they lost in the quarterfinals, but the Warriors were still aiming for the ultimate goal of a WPIAL title.

A victory against Shaler would keep them on track to achieve that goal, but a loss wouldn't end their season. They would play the loser of the other Class AAAA semifinal between Canon-McMillan and Greater Latrobe in a third-place consolation game with a PIAA tournament bid going to the winner of that game.

It was difficult going into the Plum game because the mixture of receiving a bye and the flurry of rainouts, the Warriors hadn't played a game in 12 days. But that isn't how Cox looked at it.

"It was an advantage that we didn't have to play to get to this point," Cox said. "I think I learned not to be so monotonous. We try to switch things up. We have different leaders. We have fun days [of practice].

"We worked seven days on staying back [as hitters]. Lately [we have been facing pitchers who have] a ton of movement and no speed. That is what we practiced."

The Warriors approach worked, especially for senior Jessica Zavolta and sophomore Marissa Bacco who drove in two runs each against Plum.

The six runs were plenty for the one-two punch of senior Frankie Ponziani and junior Nicole Smith. Ponziani started the game and Smith picked up the win in relief, allowing one hit and striking out five in four innings.

Entering the game, both pitchers had seven wins each.

"We are using two totally different pitchers," Cox said. "Some pitchers have the movement and are slower. We have one who has movement and one who has speed. We have one big pitcher in two."

Offensively, the Warriors have put together a balanced lineup from freshmen to seniors. Freshman Megan Mirasti is the team's top hitter with a .459 average.

Senior Cassie Szymd came up with one of the bigger hits of the year for the Warriors, clinching a playoff spot with the winning hit against Norwin.

"One team, one dream."

That is the motto that Cox and her squad came up with and say after everything they do. It couldn't be more of a resemblance of what this team is about.

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