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Plum is one of the A-K Valley teams aiming to win the section title as the softball season starts

Vying for a title in a section that boasts the state runner-up can be quite the challenge, and that challenge increases after graduating two all-state players, but that hasn’t deterred Plum from its goal.

Trying to win a title in a section that has the state runner-up can be very challenging, especially after losing two all-state players. However, Plum is not discouraged by this and is still pursuing its goal.

Mackenzie Lang and Taylor Lorish, who were named Valley News Dispatch First Team All-Stars, have left, creating a gap in the Mustangs lineup.

Plum coach Phil DiLonardo mentioned that it's tough to fill the void left by them, but they will need to depend on last year's players to step up.

The Mustangs are now looking to junior Dani Pici and sophomore Riley Stephans, who were VND Second Team All-Stars, to take on more significant roles.

Pici believes that Plum, despite a 10-7 overall record last season and an early exit in the Class 5A WPIAL tournament, can compete in Section 1, even against a strong Shaler team that reached the PIAA finals.

She expressed confidence in winning the section by playing hard, focusing on the other team's strengths, and concentrating on those aspects during practice.

Pici, who will be catching for Stephans, understands the need to step up and take on a larger role in order to challenge the opposition.

She is focusing on becoming a better leader by being more vocal, communicating with the pitcher, informing the infield and outfield about the game situation, and providing guidance to the team during timeouts.

Plum is one of several softball teams in Alle-Kiski Valley that expect to contend for section titles this season.

Fox Chapel, a fellow playoff team, will aim to pose a challenge to the Mustangs in Section 1-5A.

Knoch aims to be a contender for the section championship once again after sharing the Section 1-4A title with West Mifflin last year. They will need to overcome West Mifflin and Indiana to clinch the section title, according to second-year coach Chris Gardner.

The Knights will be attending spring training for the first time to start their season, heading to Myrtle Beach, which is seen as a beneficial opportunity to unify the team and gain valuable practice.

While Knoch gets ready near the beach, other area teams will compete in a competitive Section 1-3A, which includes the district champion Avonworth, along with Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport, and Valley.

Burrell, despite losing all-state player Katie Armstrong, aspires to enhance their performance from last year under the guidance of new coach Dave Ferres, who brings experience as a travel baseball and softball coach and a former 36th-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds.

Despite having no seniors on the team, Ferres will have juniors Braelyn Jones and Pyper Ferres, who were both VND First Team All-Stars, available for the Bucs.

Deer Lakes (10-6, 6-4) finished third in the section last year, and senior pitcher Maddie Kee, with a 10-5 record and 2.64 ERA, will lead the team once again.

Freeport (5-12, 3-7) coach Ron DeJidas acknowledges that the WPIAL section is tough, but the team is now back to full strength after losing star players Sydney Selker and Abby DeJidas to injury last season.

“Losing those two to injuries really set us back last year,” said DeJidas. “Sydney is definitely going to be a major contributor, especially defensively, but offensively as well. When she goes, we’ll go.”

Ashtin Kirkwood will be a new addition to the area as she takes over the Apollo-Ridge team, which finished 6-10 overall and 5-5 in Section 2-2A, alongside the Bucs’ Ferres.

Kirkwood expressed excitement about stepping up to a new level in competition, moving from being an assistant softball coach to taking on softball as a career, aiming to pass on her passion and knowledge about the game.

Leechburg is aiming for its 37th consecutive postseason appearance after finishing second in its section (10-2) and making it to the playoff rounds last year.

In Section 3, Class A teams include Leechburg, Springdale (0-11, 0-11), and St. Joseph.

The return of senior Anna Kreinbrook to the Spartans is a boost after she did not play last year due to AAU basketball. The team will rely on senior and star basketball player Julie Spinelli and fellow classmate Jamie Noonan after missing the playoffs last year.

“We have senior leadership,” coach Don Noonan said. “We have six seniors coming back this year. We’ve gotten better with those six players. We all agreed as a team that we have to come out of the gates hitting the ball better.”

Kiski Area, which finished fifth in Section 2-5A last season, will look to improve its standing this year with the return of outfielder Mackenzie Rainey, who received VND Second Team honors last year.

Highlands, with a 3-7 record in Section 1-4A last season, aims for a higher rank this year with junior Carrah Scardina leading the team at shortstop with a .438 batting average and 27 RBIs.

Riverview will not have a team for the second consecutive year due to low numbers last season, requiring the team to sit out in this two-year alignment cycle.

Plum is aiming for a title in a section that includes the state runner-up despite the challenge of graduating two all-state players.

For the second year in a row, Riverview will not field a team. The Raiders dealt with low numbers last season and have to sit out this year based on the two-year alignment cycle.

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