Here’s a look at the WPIAL softball playoffs, which begin Monday and conclude May 31-June 1 at PennWest University, California’s Lilley Field.
Defending champion: Seneca Valley.
No. 1 seed: Seneca Valley.
Player to watch: Lexie Hames, Seneca Valley.
Sleeper: North Allegheny.
Best first-round game: North Allegheny vs. Pine-Richland.
The lowdown: Seneca Valley rode a wave of momentum last year on its way to capturing its first WPIAL title since 1999 while reaching the state championship game. A big reason for the Raiders’ success? The emergence of two-way star Lexie Hames, who bashed 14 home runs as a freshman and has now struck out 250 batters in 107 innings pitched as a sophomore. Teams tend to avoid pitching to Hames at all costs, so her teammates will need to deliver some big hits in order to bring home back-to-back WPIAL titles. … Hempfield won five titles in a row in the largest classification from 2015-19 but hasn’t been back to the WPIAL finals since. Now in year two under coach Tina Madison, this looks to be the Spartans’ best chance yet to add to their hefty collection by winning an eighth WPIAL title. Formerly known as Tina Skelly, Madison is one of Hempfield’s most heralded pitchers in program history, and the Spartans now have another bona fide ace in sophomore Riley Miller. They are the only team to beat Seneca Valley (defending Class 6A champ) and Armstrong (defending Class 5A champ) this season. … Norwin has a high-powered offense capable of exploding at any time, and North Allegheny pitcher Sammy Plotsko gives the Tigers a chance to beat anybody.
Championship picks: Seneca Valley (Steve Rotstein), Seneca Valley (Brad Everett).
Defending champion: Armstrong.
No. 1 seed: Armstrong.
Player to watch: Bethany Rodman, Shaler.
Sleeper: Franklin Regional.
Best first-round game: Thomas Jefferson vs. Plum.
The lowdown: Defending champion Armstrong picked up right where it left off last season under new coach Keith Shaffer, streamrolling its competition by a combined score of 184-36 while winning 16 games in a row following a season-opening 6-3 loss at Hempfield. The River Hawks will be a popular pick to reach a third consecutive WPIAL title game thanks to a star-studded lineup led by Jenna Clontz, Emma Paul, Jessie Pugh and Emma Smerick. Pitcher Cameryn Sprankle is also one of the best in Class 5A. … Unbeaten Shaler boasts two of the area’s top hitters in the area in senior sluggers Bethany Rodman and Eloise Facher, and Rodman is also an elite pitcher for the Titans, who have allowed only 28 runs all season while scoring 170. … West Allegheny won three consecutive Class 5A titles from 2017-19, and the Indians appear to have all the requisite tools to make it back to the championship game with longtime coach Mindi McFate pulling the strings. … Trinity has a loaded lineup filled with all-section standouts, and the Hillers might be flying under the radar despite going unbeaten in Section 4 play. North Hills, Latrobe and Franklin Regional are also capable of making a deep run in a stacked Class 5A field.
Championship picks: Armstrong (Steve Rotstein), West Allegheny (Brad Everett).
Defending champion: Beaver.
No. 1 seed: Elizabeth Forward.
Player to watch: Shelby Telegdy, Elizabeth Forward.
Sleeper: Belle Vernon.
Best first-round game: Indiana vs. Beaver.
The lowdown: One of four unbeaten teams remaining in the WPIAL, Elizabeth Forward has been utterly dominant this season, and the Warriors have junior pitcher Shelby Telegdy to thank. Telegdy has hurled 10 shutouts in 16 games so far this season, and Elizabeth Forward has given up only eight runs overall with only one opponent scoring more than one run. And make no mistake about it — these Warriors can hit, too. Freshmen Hannah Evans and Julia Resnik have joined established players like Alivia Grimm, Lauren Vay and Telegdy to form one of the most potent lineups in Class 4A. … Speaking of teams that can hit, you won’t find many more balanced lineups than the one possessed by Chartiers Valley. With freshman Lily Duffill and sophomore Taylor Walsh enjoying breakout seasons alongside proven performers such as Madison Crump, Mackenzie Maga and Rylee Prosperi, the Colts will be a tough out for anybody this postseason. … Fresh off a 6-2 win at Chartiers Valley to snap the Colts’ 14-game winning streak and clinch a share of the section title, Montour remains a top contender to win its first WPIAL crown since 2012 with seniors Mia Arndt, Kaitlyn Molitoris and Avrie Polo leading the way.
Championship picks: Elizabeth Forward (Steve Rotstein), Montour (Brad Everett).
Defending champion: Avonworth.
No. 1 seed: Avonworth.
Player to watch: Alivia Lantzy, Avonworth.
Best first-round game: Burrell vs. Mount Pleasant.
The lowdown: Avonworth is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion, and there’s no reason to believe the Antelopes can’t defend both crowns with ace pitcher Alivia Lantzy leading the way. Also featuring standout players such as Rylee Gray, Leah Kuban and Sydney Savatt, Avonworth finished unbeaten in Section 1 and 17-1 overall, with its only loss coming against defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A champion Neshannock. … Southmoreland juniors Maddie Brown and Amarah McCutcheon helped spur the Scotties to the Section 3 title and a 12-2 overall record, with Brown emerging as one of the top pitchers in Class 3A while McCutcheon continues to cement her place as one of the area’s most prolific shortstops. … As great as Lantzy and Brown have been, Burrell might have the most dominant pitcher in Class 3A in senior Katie Armstrong, who has fanned 206 batters with only 17 walks in 98 innings pitched. Armstrong owns an 0.86 ERA and 0.57 WHIP with a record of 11-5 on the season. … Deer Lakes was the WPIAL runner-up last year, and all five of the Lancers’ losses have come against top-notch foes. Don’t be surprised to see them make some more noise in this year’s tournament.
Championship picks: Avonworth (Steve Rotstein), Avonworth (Brad Everett).
Defending champion: Neshannock.
No. 1 seed: Neshannock.
Player to watch: Addy Frye, Neshannock.
Best first-round game: Riverside vs. Fort Cherry.
The lowdown: Perhaps the most prohibitive favorite in any classification, Neshannock is seeking more than just a repeat WPIAL title. With a perfect record going into the postseason, the Lancers are chasing history, seeking to become only the second team to win back-to-back WPIAL titles without losing a game after Beaver did so in 2021-22. With 17 of 18 players back from last season and sophomore sensation Addy Frye leading the charge, many expect Neshannock to become the first WPIAL team to complete back-to-back perfect seasons. The Lancers have won 42 games in a row. … Laurel has a combined record of 33-7 over the past two years, with six of those losses coming against Neshannock — and the other coming against the aforementioned Beaver team led by superstar Payton List. The Lancers may seem to have their number, but if anybody is capable of knocking off Neshannock, it’s the Spartans. Three of the six games between the arch rivals have been decided by three runs or less dating back to last season. … Serra Catholic finished 15-3 overall, with its only losses coming against Class 4A McKeesport and Class 5A Plum and Latrobe. Eagles senior Caroline Malandra is batting .768 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.
Championship picks: Neshannock (Steve Rotstein), Neshannock (Brad Everett).
Defending champion: Union.
No. 1 seed: Union.
Player to watch: Mia Preuhs, Union.
Sleeper: West Greene.
Best first-round game: Leechburg vs. South Side.
The lowdown: Union pulled off a stunning upset in last year’s WPIAL title game with a 3-2 win against West Greene, preventing the Pioneers from becoming the first team to win six consecutive WPIAL championships. This time around, the Scotties are the team with the target on their back after finishing unbeaten in Section 1 play and 14-3 overall. Sophomore Mia Preuhs is batting .525 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, and she sports a record of 6-0 with 69 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings pitched. … Frazier dropped down to Class 1A after reaching last year’s WPIAL Class 2A title game, and the Commodores have been on a roll lately, riding a 13-game winning streak following a season-opening 5-2 loss at Charleroi. … Although Carmichaels might not be the favorite in Class 1A, the Mighty Mikes are the only unbeaten team in the field after posting a 16-0 mark in the regular season. Freshman Carys McConnell is batting .531 with three homers and 28 RBIs, and sophomore Ali Jacobs is hitting .549 with 10 doubles and 21 RBIs. … West Greene only finished 11-7 in the regular season, but the Pioneers are still dangerous, with a handful of veteran players who know how to win when it counts. Don’t count them out yet.
Championship picks: Frazier (Steve Rotstein), Union (Brad Everett).