Wednesday, May 4, 2022 | 6:53 p.m.

Morgan Dunkel was ready to take the ball, hit the rubber in the pitching circle, and have a breakout freshman season for the Valley softball team.

But the early stages of the growing covid pandemic stifled the spring 2020 campaign.

“It was tough. I was looking forward to the season,” Dunkel said.

“Coach was working hard with us to prepare. Then we got the call that we weren’t going to have a season. But we just had to get over it and focus on winning again. We ended up doing the last season and even better this season.

With Dunkel helping to pave the way for Valley in the circle and at home plate as a sophomore – she started the Vikings to a 5-5 mark in the 1-3A section and led the team in batting (.513), runs scored (18) and home runs (five) – the team earned a berth in the WPIAL playoffs last season for the first time since 2012.

She’s once again part of a productive Valley roster that is 9-4 thanks to a 19-1 five-setter win over Shady Side Academy in Monday afternoon’s Section 1 Finals.

Valley still has two games left in the regular season: Thursday at Obama and Tuesday at Chartiers-Houston. Softball playoff pairings are to be released next Thursday.

“The girls have worked so hard since the start of the season and they’ve improved so much,” Valley veteran coach Carrol Perroz said.

“With the playoffs, everyone has a clean slate, and that’s one and done. You want to keep growing from what you’ve been doing all season. You have to play your best and leave it all out there, and these girls are ready to do just that.

The Vikings finished 6-2 in section play with its only two losses to undefeated section champion Deer Lakes. Valley scored a sectional sweep over last year’s sectional champion North Catholic with 10-7, 3-2 wins.

“Teamwork and communication has been key,” said Dunkel, who said while she’s had success again this year, it’s a whole-team effort. Fellow junior captains Leah Taliani and Haley Demharter help move the needle in the right direction.

“We’ve had a few new players come in, and they fit in well with everyone who came back. The bats work very well. We strike with power. We worked a lot on our shots, so I knew we had power in our bats. And the defense has improved so much. I like where this team is at the moment. We got a taste of the playoffs last year, and we want more this year.

In the first meeting with North Catholic on April 8, the Vikings trailed 5-0 after the first inning and rallied to tie the score in the top of the fourth. When the Trojans regained the lead late in the fourth, Valley rallied again with three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth.

“This game really showed what this team is made of because we’re not going to give up any game,” Taliani said.

“We will continue to fight for each other. Deer Lakes are a powerhouse and we fought them hard, especially in Game 2. If we play our best game, I think we can do great things in the playoffs.

Freshman first baseman Gabby Campana-Chambers helped the cause in Game 1 with North Catholic with her first college home run, and veteran coach Carrol Perroz said she’s really grown with more and more gaming experience.

“Freshmen coming in and producing, that’s something you don’t always count on, but she was able to contribute and contribute a lot,” Perroz said.

Perroz said sophomore Jessica Staraniec has solidified the receiver position since arriving from the outfield.

“She was thrown in and did a fantastic job,” Perroz said. “There were a few mistakes early on, but she was tested by fire and she answered the call.”

Dunkel, who leads the team with an average of .471 and 28 RBIs, said she has enjoyed a number of competitive section games this season, including a key 12-8 victory over Derry on April 22.

She finished the game with five RBIs and hit a grand slam. It was his first match since his grandmother, Patricia, died five days earlier on Easter Sunday.

“That (grand slam) was definitely for my grandma. It was really good,” said Dunkel, who hit four home runs this season, the best on his team.

“She was really supportive and was in all my games. I know she’s always there. My teammates were very supportive. They did everything they could to put a smile on my face for quite a while. moving.

Perroz said a pair of no-section matches — with Class 4A Highlands, a WPIAL finalist and PIAA semi-finalist last year, and Class 5A Kiski Area — were beneficial despite the losses.

“It was great because we got to see that caliber of bullet,” Perroz said. “The girls wanted to compete with that. I know we lost both games (11-3 to Highlands and 4-0 to Kiski) but they opened our eyes and we got to see things that will help us prepare for the playoffs.

Michael Love is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .