NEW CASTLE —
Another added benefit of Furst’s speed is the distance she’s able to cover when she patrols center field. Her athleticism and running ability were tested in the PIAA Class A semifinals in a 4-1 victory against Southern Huntingdon. She made an impressive diving catch in the outfield against the Lady Rockets’ first batter of the game, catcher McKenna Garlock. Furst later snagged a potential game-tying home run from Garlock with a catch at the wall in the sixth. The score was 2-1 at the time.
“It’s been lights out,” Kimmel said of Furst’s defensive work. “She can go get them, as to a couple of catches she made in the semifinal game can attest. She really held us in that game. She has a nice, accurate throwing arm. Teams know that, and they’re reluctant to take that extra base on you. That’s all part of the defense, too.”
Robert Morris University saw so much potential in Furst that it offered her a chance to play for its softball program. It was a proposition that was too good to refuse for Furst, who became the first Neshannock softball player to go Division I in the process.
It was an opportunity she may have passed up at the end of last season, but Furst learned a few things to reconsider this year.
“I learned to always have fun doing this sport,” she said. “For the next four years, I’m going to be doing it. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have fun. This team taught me to always have fun, work hard and try your best at it.”
On a Neshannock team that returned eight starters from last season, including five of last year’s all stars, a big question mark was left at pitcher. Amanda Furst, Rayanna’s sister and last year’s softball co-MVP, graduated, leaving the pitching circle in need of its first new starter in four seasons.
Shaffer, a sophomore, was more than capable of filling the role and was eager to make the most at her new position.
“Just probably the mental part, I’d say,” Shaffer said, describing the difference between her position last year, third base, and pitching. “You just have to be prepared for each game more than usual. That’s a big adjustment.”
New might be a loose term for Shaffer when it comes to pitching, as prior experience in travel leagues laid a groundwork for success. Already an all-star as a third baseman last year with a .398 average and 15 stolen bases, she has become an even better pitcher.
“She’s always been a pitcher,” added Kimmel. “It’s just last year we had Amanda here, but she’s a very good ballplayer, period. I know there were schools looking at her last year that were looking at her as a position player. They didn’t even know she pitched. I saw her pitch and I used her a few times in some of the games. She has a pretty good regimen that’s pretty much all-year round. She’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
A ceiling is hard to find on the young hurler, who made strides in the offseason to prepare for the 25-game haul of the upcoming season.
“I would say probably my accuracy made a lot of improvement, especially coming in to the high school level,” Shaffer said. “I knew that was a big focus.
“Wrist snaps are really important. I do an hour of wrist snaps every day,” she said about her regimen earlier in the season. “My basement is all set up for it, so I go down there and we have a net and a couple of buckets of balls, and I’ll just pitch into that.”