Youthful Fox Chapel softball sets sights toward future

By: Jerin Steele , Monday, March 11, 2019, TRIB-LIVE

Fox Chapel softball coach Lisa Hess is in a situation she hasn’t seen in her five seasons with the program after nine seniors graduated from a team that made the postseason last year.

Hess has a roster short on numbers and experience, with 13 girls out for the team and only three returning starters, but she likes their potential.

The Foxes are aiming to build this season with an eye toward the future.

“When you lose nine seniors, it’s hard to make that up,” Hess said. “You typically get four players per class that come up. If you get three or four and lose nine, you’re going to be short.

“The good news is that the girls that are here are softball players. Everyone we have has pretty much made it their mission in sports to be good at softball, and that’s nice to have. I plan to play every one of these girls. I love the enthusiasm in the young team.”

Fox Chapel finished 6-9 and 4-6 in Section 2-6A last season and lost to Canon-McMillan, 15-12, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

First-team all-section pitcher Krystyna Burdelski and second team all-section catcher Tawnya Holben were among the nine seniors who graduated. Burdelski is at Westminster, and Holben is at Mt. Aloysius.

The Foxes return second-team all-section outfielder Jessica Klein, a junior, classmate Claire Katz, a third basemen/utility player, and sophomore outfielder Neena Pietropaolo. All three are returning starters and, along with lone senior Madison Borkovich, they will be counted upon to bring leadership.

“They are going to have dual roles,” Hess said. “They have to step up position-wise, and they need to be mentors. It’s going to be unique for them, because there are only three juniors and one senior doing that. We’re going to rely on them to take them by the hand and say it’s OK if you make an error and to go on to the next play.

“That’s tough for a young player to learn, because they always feel like they’re being judged. That’s when you need an older player to say ‘This happens, and it happened to me.’ ”

Katz has already warmed to the task of being a leader.

“Since it’s a small team, we’ve got to know each other pretty well during the open gyms in the winter,” Katz said. “That’s made it easier to take on a leadership role.”

The Foxes will have an all-freshman battery with pitcher Mackenzie Borkovich and catcher Amelia Herzer. Many spots are still to be filled, and Hess said everyone will likely see playing time.

“What’s good about only having 13 players is that every girl is going to be required to learn two positions, because we’ll likely need to rotate them around,” Hess said. “By the time they are seniors, they are going to have a lot of varsity time.”

Fox Chapel already was in a difficult section with four-time defending WPIAL and three-time defending state champion Hempfield and Norwin, but with several schools dropping to Class 5A, the section became more daunting.

The Foxes lost WPIAL 6A runner-up Latrobe, which dropped, but added Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, North Allegheny, North Hills and Butler. Seven of the eight teams in the new Section 2-6A made the postseason last year.

“There’s going to be some tough competition,” Katz said. “We just have to keep growing as a team and working hard, so we can keep up with them.”