North Xtra: Young Shaler team claims a title

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Last Thursday's WPIAL Class AAAA softball title game pitted the incumbent powerhouse against the young, upstart squad.

Score one for youth.

Shaler Area (17-4), which played 14 players in the championship game, not one of whom was a senior, took down two-time defending district champion Canon-McMillan, 9-5, to win the WPIAL title for the first time since 2005.

"It's been a great team," Shaler coach Skip Palmer said. "These kids can play and have worked extremely hard. I don't know if they are just too young to know what the heck they did, but they did it.

"They're just a good bunch and I think we're going to get even better."

Palmer is no stranger to success. He led Shaler to the WPIAL Class AAAA final in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and his 2006 team raised the PIAA Class AAAA trophy.

The Titans won't win a state title this season, as they lost in the first round of the state tournament to Greater Latrobe, 6-4, on Monday.

But Palmer did win his first WPIAL championship as a head coach last week with a young team that played a total of nine freshmen and sophomores in the win against the Big Macs.

"This is a great program win and it's about time, because we've been here a number of times and gotten the silver, so it's about time we got the gold," Palmer said.

The Titans are led by sophomore pitcher Brianna Dobson, who has lost just three games and tied for second in the WPIAL with 14 regular-season wins. She also had 82 strikeouts during the regular season.

She has added four more wins this postseason, including the one against the Big Macs in the title game.

She allowed two runs in the first inning, both unearned, and then three in the fifth as the Big Macs' talented middle of the order of Abby McCartney, Olivia Lorusso and Giorgiana Zeremenko had back-to-back-to-back RBI hits to tie the score at 5.

But Dobson allowed just one hit over the final two innings, and Shaler scored four runs in the sixth inning to give the Titans the title.

For the game, Dobson allowed 10 hits, but did not walk a batter and struck out four.

In the process, Shaler became only the third WPIAL team all season to hold Canon-McMillan -- which came into the title game averaging more than 10 runs a game -- below six runs.

"[Dobson] did a great job because they're a great hitting team," Palmer said. "We changed things up a little bit the last few innings just to give us a different look and catch them and we did. They weren't looking for what we did and we came through."

Shaler can put some runs on the board, too, as evidenced by its average of 6.6 runs per contest this season.

The Titans had a balanced attack Thursday, with 11 players either getting a hit, scoring a run or recording an RBI.

Of those 11, three are juniors, three are sophomores and five are freshmen.

That's why Palmer has no plans to retire anytime soon.

"I'm going to see this crew through first, and then we'll talk later," Palmer said.

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