June 30, 2012 7:00 a.m. —
Situational hitting, fielding accuracy and pitching technique are all things that can be taught and play an integral role in being or becoming a good softball player.
But sometimes it’s the qualities that can’t be taught that separate the good athletes from the great ones — things like passion, desire and fortitude.
That are just a sampling of the many attributes possessed by Saegertown’s Arianna Hanley and Rachel DiBartolomeo and one of the many reasons they have been chosen as The Meadville Tribune’s 2012 Softball Co-Players of the Year.
Hanley and DiBartolomeo were one of the most potent battery combinations in all of District 10 and the main cog on a team that had its best season in program history.
“Both of those players evolved into top notch players at their position,” Saegertown coach Mark McKissock said. “They didn’t like to lose, did what it took to improve their games and performed well above our expectations.
“We were extremely lucky to have them on our team.”
Hanley was thrust into the role as Saegertown’s starting pitcher this season following the graduation of Sadie Brunot, who had a brilliant 2011 campaign that included two no-hitters.
A shortstop a year ago, Hanley accepted the challenge with little argument, but a bit of reservation.
“I’m pretty short,” Hanley said. “I’m not tall. So I know for my size I won’t be pitching in college. I was content staying at shortstop or another infield position or in the outfield, which is where I am hoping to play in college.”
But as McKissock said, “Ari is a gamer.”
So the junior, who was a pitching star all through the Little League ranks, took the ball from her coach and devoted herself to becoming the pitcher her team needed in order to reach its goals of a championship season. Hanley finished the year at 19-3 with a 1.96 earned run average. She struck out 109 and walked 28 in 136 1/3 innings of work.
“Small school options are limited when it comes to pitching,” McKissock said. “But if you remember (in 2011) up in Union City that was a bang them up game and we called on her that day and she came in and picked Sadie up.
“Would I rather have her playing defense? Would I rather have her at shortstop? We did what we needed her to do and she worked real hard to get it done.”
Hanley did hit a bump in the road during the regular season, suffering back to back losses to backyard rivals Maplewood and Cambridge Springs — a pair of outings that saw her ERA go from 1.99 to 2.39. Hanley gave up a total of nine earned runs in those two games, nearly a quarter of her total for the season.
“She was struggling a little bit in the later third of the year,” McKissock said. “But she really buckled down and got serious and really, really pitched well for us down the stretch.”
In the postseason, Hanley was 3-1 with a 0.77 ERA. She threw a two-hit shutout against West Middlesex in the District 10 Class A semifinals and followed that up with a five-hit gem against a talented Sharpsville team to lead the Panthers to their first District 10 title.
Then Hanley showed everyone just what kind of pitcher she became in the opening round of the PIAA Class A state tournament against Bellwood-Antis when the Blue Devils’ first baseman crushed a home run to tie the game at 1-1 in the second inning.
“That Bellwood girl came up in the second inning and hit that ball a mile,” McKissock said. “It wasn’t a home run. It was two home runs and it tied the game. If (Hanley) folds on us or gets a little bit of doubt in her mind, that winds up being a different game.”
Instead, Hanley bared down and Saegertown won its first state playoff game in program history.
And when Hanley wasn’t contributing on the mound, she was doing her part at the plate. Hanley batted .402 with four doubles, four triples and two home runs, scored 33 runs and drove in 28 runs.
Front row seat
DiBartolomeo was lucky enough to have a front row seat to watch Hanley’s outstanding season as it unfolded game by game. But she did plenty to treat those watching her throughout the campaign.
In baseball and softball, there is a thing called a five-tool player, a player who excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning and speed, throwing and fielding.
This year, DiBartolomeo blossomed into a five-tool player and was opposing teams’ worst nightmare.
“If I’m playing a team, I don’t want Rachel on the other team leading off,” McKissock said. “Her on base percentage, her slugging percentage … She developed at the plate this year to be more than a slapper. She turned into a hitter.
“She turned into a patient kid who was fine with taking a couple of pitches and wasn’t afraid to have two strikes on her. She was in control of every at bat.”
DiBartolomeo’s final offensive numbers were ridiculous. She finished with a .646 on base percentage and a .524 batting average. She scored 34 runs, stole 21 bases and had 12 RBIs, a double, five triples and a home run.
“People played her to slap and she’d hit it over their heads,” McKissock said.
“I am so proud of Rachel,” Hanley said. “She grew as a softball player and became one of the leaders. The girls looked up to her including myself … When she got on base she was going to run those bases as hard as she could. And she was a blocking machine behind the plate.”
Twice as nice
Hanley and DiBartolomeo had outstanding seasons as individuals. But they will be the first to admit that a longtime friendship added to their comfort around each other on the field and allowed them to have an even better season as a duo.
“We play three sports together,” Hanley said. “We play travel softball together. We are together pretty much 24-7, 365 days a year. We know each other so well. We kind of have this mentality that we know what the other one is thinking.”
McKissock called it a love, hate relationship.
“They go together, but they’re different,” he said. “Just when you think they are on each other’s cases, they are standing right beside each other. They ran a softball clinic together (in June) and did a great job. We’re lucky to have them.”
It’s those common qualities of passion, desire and fortitude that brought them together for an unforgettable season this year.
“Those two love the game of softball,” McKissock said. “They just love it. I go to watch a Little League all-star game and there they are. I go check out a (recreation) softball game and there’s Rachel umpiring.
“You can’t teach that. And as a coach you step back and say, ‘Gosh are we lucky.’”
And guess what?
“They’ll be back next year,” McKissock said.