They say nobody is perfect, but the Neshannock softball team sure is putting that theory to the test.
After becoming only the sixth team in WPIAL history to complete an undefeated season while winning WPIAL and PIAA championships last spring, the Lancers (5-0, 3-0) are barreling toward an even greater feat in 2023. It’s still early, but with Neshannock riding a 31-game winning streak and all but one player back from last year’s historic run, it’s hard not to put this team on a pedestal all its own.
Not only did the Lancers finish 26-0 last season, they did so while taking on an extremely challenging nonsection schedule, with three consecutive 10-run rule wins against Ellwood City, West Allegheny and eventual WPIAL Class 5A champion Armstrong to end the season. Add to that four wins against section-rival Laurel — considered by some to be the second-best Class 2A team in the state last year — plus a 4-1 win against Conwell-Egan Catholic in the PIAA championship game, and you have one of the most impressive seasons in WPIAL history. Things are no different this year, with Ligonier Valley, Armstrong and defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champion Avonworth among the nonsection foes on Neshannock’s schedule.
And yet, would it really surprise anybody if lightning were to strike twice for the Lancers?
“I’ll be very honest — it’s something we avoid talking about,” Neshannock coach Jackie Lash said. “We really stress the importance of playing one game at a time and not looking too far ahead, because all kinds of things can happen if you do that. Each game, there’s still takeaways. It doesn’t matter that we’re winning. We still have takeaways we can talk about at practice and things we can work on. This team isn’t perfect. There’s a lot of things we can improve, even if it’s just a little bit.
“They’re perfect in my heart, I will say that. But there’s always something to work on.”
It’s unclear who holds the longest winning streak in WPIAL softball history, but the longest streak of the past 20 years belongs to Hempfield, which won 46 games in a row from 2016-18 during its unprecedented streak of three consecutive PIAA titles. Beaver won 42 in a row from 2021-22 with star pitcher Payton List before falling in last year’s PIAA Class 4A semifinals. As for the Lancers, they would have a chance to tie Hempfield’s 46-game streak by completing an undefeated regular season, assuming they play all 20 possible regular-season games.
Taking it one step further, Neshannock could then potentially join Beaver as the only teams to win back-to-back WPIAL titles without losing a game. No WPIAL team has ever won back-to-back PIAA titles without a loss — but who’s to say the Lancers can’t be the first?
Yes, Neshannock lost a certified multisport star in Neleh Nogay, the speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter who spearheaded Neshannock’s run to WPIAL and PIAA titles in both basketball and softball last year. But guess who’s in her place this year? Senior Aaralyn Nogay has bumped up from the No. 2 hole into the leadoff spot, and freshman Jaidon Nogay is now batting second while holding down her big sister’s spot in center field.
Through the first five games in 2023, Aaralyn is batting .500 with 3 doubles, a home run, 5 RBIs, 8 runs scored and 7 stolen bases, including three in a 10-2 win at Riverside on Wednesday. Jaidon has wasted little time making an impact in her varsity debut, batting .533 with a team-high nine runs scored along with seven RBIs.
“[Jaidon] has the most confidence I’ve ever seen her have, and she’s just smashing the ball right now,” said Aaralyn, a Bowling Green recruit. “We need to play really good competition to get better, so I’m very happy that [Lash] scheduled these hard games to test us.”
Batting third is two-way phenom Addy Frye, a sophomore pitcher who has yet to lose a game in her varsity career. Frye also happens to be one of the top sluggers in the area, as she bashed eight home runs and 15 doubles as a freshman while batting .447 with 49 RBIs and a .949 slugging percentage. So far this year, she is batting .562 with a home run, two doubles and seven RBIs to go with a 5-0 record and 0.26 ERA. Frye has 36 strikeouts to three walks and an 0.74 WHIP in 27 innings pitched on the season, and her career record stands at 26-0.
“I think travel ball prepared me a lot for tough losses, because we play tough teams in travel ball, top-level players. So I think mentally I will be able to handle a loss [if it happens],” Frye said. “We’ve been talking a lot about how it’s OK to lose a game, just not in the playoffs.”
That top three is enough to strike fear into most opposing pitchers’ hearts, but things don’t get easier in the 4-5-6 spots. Senior first baseman Hunter Newman bats cleanup, followed by sophomore third baseman Gabby Quinn and junior catcher Gabby Perod. Newman is a Morgan State University recruit who leads the team with a .625 batting average and nine RBIs to go with seven runs scored, while Quinn is batting .500 and slugging 1.000 with 3 doubles, a triple, a home run, 6 RBIs and 6 runs scored. And Perod, typically known more for her stellar work behind the plate, is second on the team with a .600 batting average while leading the team with four doubles.
“Sometimes you have to convince these girls that it’s OK to hit a single,” Lash said. “We do have such heavy hitters. Honestly, they’re just fun to watch. They’re fun to coach, and they have fun while they’re playing. I think that feeds into the success they’re having as well.
“All of these girls work so hard for it. They all put a lot of time in the summer and fall, just working on everything they do. That middle of the lineup, it’s pretty tough to beat.”
The Lancers started the season with back-to-back 10-run wins against Hickory and Sharpsville, then opened section play with a 17-0 win against Freedom before taking on arch rival Laurel on the road on April 5. With the Spartans also bringing back nearly every key player from 2022, many expect the two teams to contend for not only the Class 2A Section 1 title, but also the WPIAL and PIAA crowns. And after Neshannock won all four matchups between the two teams last season, the Lancers knew Laurel would be out for revenge this spring.
Despite a spirited comeback attempt by the Spartans, though, the result was still the same, as Neshannock jumped out to a 6-0 lead before hanging on to win, 6-3. Frye set the tone by belting a home run in her first at-bat and finished 3 for 4 at the plate while picking up the win, and Perod and both Nogay sisters also enjoyed multi-hit games for the Lancers.
“Even watching the other day, Andrew [Frye] was standing with a crowd of our varsity baseball players at Laurel,” Lash said about Frye’s older brother, a standout senior for Neshannock’s baseball team. “The first pitch Addy sees, she drives it right over the left field fence, almost right by where he’s standing. It’s fun to watch. He and his friends were hooting and hollering about it. It’s really nice to see the support they have for each other.”
Frye said she and Andrew have a friendly competition to see who can hit more home runs each year. Her eight home runs bested Andrew’s five a year ago, although Andrew had to sit out the postseason due to PIAA transfer rules after finishing second in the WPIAL in homers during the regular season.
“We’re the only two left in the house, so we’re pretty close,” Frye said. “We were a very competitive family growing up, and I had an older sister [Courtney] who also pitched [at Sharpsville], so my goal was always to be better than her. And my goal was always to be a better hitter than my brother.”
With a seemingly endless supply of power-hitting sluggers, base-swiping speedsters and gold glove-caliber defenders — not to mention a virtually untouchable ace in the circle — the question might not be whether or not Neshannock can go undefeated once again. Perhaps a better question is, “Who can beat this team?”
“I know we focused a lot as a staff on the fact that last year was last year. That’s exactly what it was. It’s in the past,” Lash said. “We did great things, we had time to celebrate, but then it was time to just put it in the past and continue to work hard. I think every one of those girls knows they just needed to put more in. They needed to perfect things.
“I think they all just have that nature within themselves. … This is a coach’s dream.”