East Xtra: Latrobe advances in state playoffs

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The high school game of softball has changed since 2008 when former Greater Latrobe pitcher Alexa Bryson was tormenting WPIAL hitters.

Six years later the game is more about offense than ever before, thanks to a rule change moving the pitching circle back 3 feet to 43 feet from the pitcher's rubber to home plate.

That's not to say the game has passed Bryson by.

Rather than leading her team to success in the pitching circle, she is doing so from the dugout in her first year as head coach at Latrobe.

The Wildcats regrouped from a heartbreaking 7-6 loss in the WPIAL semifinals to Canon-McMillan to defeat section-rival Penn-Trafford, 2-1, in the third-place consolation game and then surprised WPIAL champion Shaler Area, 6-4, Monday to reach the PIAA quarterfinals.

There are no pitchers in the WPIAL this year striking out 317 and maintaining a 0.25 ERA as Bryson did as a senior. She led Latrobe to WPIAL titles in 2007 and '08. She fired 10 no-hitters, including two perfect games in her career.

The WPIAL will be hard pressed to see another performance such as that. Bryson is well aware of that, but it does not mean that defense is not first and foremost a priority.

"I definitely think the game has changed over the years," Bryson said. "It has become an offensively driven game. I think that is why our defense is such an important aspect of our game. We really focus on the fundamentals of the game."

Latrobe continues in the PIAA playoffs today against District 9 champion DuBois, a 5-4 winner against Canon-McMillan on Monday. They'll play at 5 p.m. at Slippery Rock University. The Wildcats will pursue a PIAA title that eluded Bryson in 2007 and '08 when the team lost back-to-back PIAA championship games.

Latrobe (17-5) has stepped up in big games numerous times this season. After an early-season loss to Norwin, it won the second meeting. It was able to sweep the regular-season series against Hempfield Area to share the Section 1-AAAA title.

After losing to Seneca Valley, 9-1, in the regular-season finale, the Wildcats bounced back 11 days later and eliminated the Raiders, 3-2, in the WPIAL quarterfinals. After having split the regular-season series against Penn-Trafford, the Wildcats won the third-place consolation game that served as a rubber match.

"It was definitely hard to overcome the loss to Canon-Mac," Bryson said. "The way we lost at the end of the game was tough. I think the win over Penn-Trafford reinvigorated our team and gave us the confidence and motivation we needed."

The fact that it was a section rival made the seven-day wait between games easy to manage.

"I think because we knew it was them, it helped," Bryson said. "We knew what to expect. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we entered with the right mindset."

With the upset win against WPIAL champion Shaler and with Canon-McMillan, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion, losing to DuBois, the Wildcats are the last WPIAL Class AAAA team standing.

"I think [being the last WPIAL team competing in the PIAA playoffs] is definitely something to take pride in," Bryson said. "The WPIAL is [famous] for being a great softball area to come from."

Latrobe has ridden the right arm of freshman Meredith Carr this postseason. She has performed on the postseason stage like she was an upperclassman

"She has handled it in a very mature manner," Bryson said. "She has been in some tough games against really good teams and in the end it will make her a stronger and better pitcher."

Carr is surrounded by an experienced team that includes three senior starters, right fielder Lexi Zoppetti, first baseman Shelby Noel and second baseman Ashley Pagliei.

"It is a real honor to still be a part of Latrobe softball," Bryson said. "It is just as sweet to be successful as a coach as I was as a player. This is really just a great group."

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