Pittston Area’s softball team couldn’t have played much better in the final several games of the 2015 season. It ended with a heartbreaking loss to Nanticoke.
However, the way Pittston Area finished last season could be an indication of things to come for this year’s squad. The team brings back five seniors and seven starters after finishing last year with a 7-12 mark. As the 12-seed in last year’s Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 Class AAA championships, the Patriots upset No. 5 Abington Heights. In the quarterfinals, Pittston Area held a 1-0 lead over Nanticoke before being eliminated.
“We played our best softball at the end of the last season, which is how you want it,” Pittston Area head coach Vito Quaglia said. “You want to be peaking in the postseason. Now we need to take the next step to making us a perennial contender.”
The Patriots welcome back long-tenured pitcher Taylor Baloga for the 2016 season. Baloga, a senior, started 15 games last year and finished with 73 strikeouts. Baloga finished with a 2.77 ERA and allowed an opponents average of just .231.
Baloga will team up with sophomore Nina Cencetti and freshman Alexa McHugh to fill the circle for Pittston Area this season. Junior Dominique Quaglia provides an additional arm for the Patriots. Baloga was named a Wyoming Valley Conference First-Team All-Star last season.
“Taylor Baloga has been the primary pitcher for the past three seasons,” Quaglia said. “Now a senior, she has almost 50 starts under her belt and is one of the most experienced pitchers in the league. This gives us four distinct options to choose from to keep our opponents off-balance.”
Pittston Area returns the majority of its power offensively, led by senior catcher Mindina Lieback. Lieback was named second-team all-state after last year’s productive season. Lieback finished with a .415 batting average and an on-base percentage of just under .500.
Junior Abbey Bradigan, who hit .345 last season, was the team’s leading RBI-producer with 13, while Baloga finished last year with 12 RBI. Pittston Area’s five-tool player junior Taryn Ashby hit .364 last season. Quaglia said Lieback and senior Julie Silinski will set the table at the top of the order.
“(Baloga and Bradigan) return to give some pop in the middle of the lineup,” he said. “Taryn Ashby, Nina Cencetti and Dominique Quaglia look to be solid contact hitters.”
Pittston Area brings back seven starters from last season: Lieback, Bradigan, Ashby, Baloga, Quaglia, Silinskie and Cencetti. All four infielders are back: Bradigan at third, Ashby at shortstop, Quaglia at second and Cencetti at first. With Baloga back in the circle and Lieback back behind the plate, the entire infield for Pittston Area remains constant.
The Patriots lost just three players from last season: Liz Cappelloni, Lauren Dragon and Theresa Domarosky.
Lieback, Baloga and Silinski have been starting since their freshman season. With Lieback’s move to catcher, Silinski is the only returning outfielder. Quaglia said junior Shelby Gardner and underclassmen Kerry Shamnoski, Mackenzie Gable, McHugh and Lexi Felinski will all be fighting for playing time.
“Our program has talent at all grade levels,” Quaglia said. “We have a chance to be successful this season. However, we need to play one game at a time and limit the errors.”
As far as the Wyoming Valley Conference is concerned, softball is an open field with a lot of strong programs filling in. On Pittston Area’s schedule last season were District 2 Class AAAA champ Hazleton, District 2 Class AAA champ Nanticoke, who finished fourth in the state, and Class AA state champion Holy Redeemer.
Quaglia said adding perennial powers like Wyoming Area and Tunkhannock, the Wyoming Valley Conference is home to some great softball. The coach hopes his Pittston Area squad can believe in themselves and know they are ready for any challenge.
“We need to learn how to perform at a high level on a consistent basis,” he said. “Last season we played really well at times, but we also had games when we let mistakes get the best of us.”
The Patriots open the Wyoming Valley Conference season at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 2 against Hanover Area.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick