The term “five-tool player” gets thrown around all too often these days, but if anybody fits the bill, it’s South Fayette’s shortstop-turned-center fielder Maddie Cavenaugh.

In order to be considered a true five-tool player, one has to hit for average and hit for power while possessing elite speed, an elite glove and an elite arm in the field. Few players in the WPIAL can meet all those requirements, but Cavenaugh checks all the boxes with ease — and with the do-it-all junior leading the way, the Lions have come roaring out of the gates in 2024 after their fourth-place finish in last year’s WPIAL Class 4A tournament.

“She has the talent, but she also has the work ethic, which I think makes her the player she is,” said South Fayette coach Olet Stasko. “She’s definitely a team player, but she knows she is one of the leaders. If she sets the tone, they follow.”

After flying under the radar as one of the most well-rounded underclassmen in the WPIAL as a sophomore, Cavenaugh mashed five home runs in her first three games and nearly missed out on a sixth while doubling off the fence against Mars on Monday night. Yet despite batting .571 with five homers and 12 RBIs in just four games, Cavenaugh somehow remains the WPIAL’s best-kept secret — for now.

“She definitely ranks up there,” Stasko said about Cavenaugh’s place among the best players she has ever coached. “Every year, Maddie has gotten better, so I don’t see her stopping now. I think next year, she’ll be even better.”

As a leadoff hitter, Cavenaugh’s primary objective is to be a table-setter for the rest of the team, but so far she has been the one clearing the table more often than not. And although most coaches would do anything to avoid putting the leadoff hitter on base, it’s only a matter of time before teams start to pitch around her and take their chances with the rest of the Lions’ loaded lineup.

“I’m pretty picky with the pitches I see,” Cavenaugh said. “My main goal when I go up to bat is not to hit home runs. It’s to get us started and get the bats going in any way possible. … I definitely have a lot of confidence in the girls behind me.”

South Fayette’s Maddie Cavenaugh has already surpassed her home-run total from 2023 with five home runs through her first four games in 2024. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Of course, Cavenaugh can hit for contact and has plenty of power, but what about her other tools? Well, she put her top-notch speed on full display with a pair of inside-the-park home runs in her first three games this season, including one against New Castle where she may have touched home plate before the ball was even picked up.

“It was actually a bomb I hit, and everyone thought it was going to hit the house behind the field, and it got caught up in the wind,” Cavenaugh said. “I just ran around [the bases].”

And if it’s defense you want, well, you name the position, and Cavenaugh can play it with the best of them.

Shortstop? Sure. She excelled there for most of her freshman and sophomore seasons despite being more of an outfielder growing up. Want to move her back to center field for her junior season? That seems to be working out pretty well for Stasko and South Fayette so far. And what if the catcher gets injured and somebody needs to take her place behind the plate, like what happened in the Lions’ 13-5 win at New Castle on Saturday?

Just give Cavenaugh the mask and gear and let her go to work.

“I almost threw a girl out. It was really close,” Cavenaugh said. “I do think I’ve kind of made it a point to work on all aspects of my game.”

After storming out to a 14-1 season-opening win in enemy territory against fierce rival Chartiers Valley on March 22, South Fayette proved that was no fluke with a hard-fought 7-5 triumph against Thomas Jefferson on March 25. Saturday’s win against the Red Hurricanes made it three in a row before Monday’s 7-2 loss against the Planets brought the Lions’ momentum to a halt.

Cavenaugh seemed to be in good spirits after the game, expressing full confidence in South Fayette’s ability to bounce back. And while she’s already on her way to some impressive individual milestones, Cavenaugh is focusing on the team goals first and foremost — including a burning desire to become the first team in school history to qualify for the state playoffs.

After an up-and-down campaign last spring, Cavenaugh and her teammates know there will be some bumps along the ride again this year. But having already proven they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run — and with nearly every key contributor back from last year’s team — there’s no doubt these Lions are a threat to go all the way in Class 4A.

“I’m chasing some big goals, and I definitely put in a lot of work in the offseason, so it’s good to see it translate to the game now,” Cavenaugh said. “I’d say my goals are more related to the team. I know we came in fourth last year in the WPIAL, but we’re like every team chasing that title. I really think we can do it this year, and I want to be at my best in order to lead us there.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at