Tribe back in catbird seat
Turners Falls sophomore second baseman Jenna Putala underwent reconstructive knee surgery in November and isn't expected to return until May, if all goes well. A precocious "veteran," Putala is a key player for the Indians, who will be dangerous with or without but better with her in the lineup.
Frontier junior catcher Courtney Newsome will be a rock behind the plate for the Red Hawks this spring. Sliding is Jenna Putala of Turners Falls, and faraway in the background is her coach, Hatfield native Gary Mullins, the dean of WMass softball coaches with a pretty fair record, to boot.
4/19/13. Frontier's #8 Caitlin Sullivan, turns on a waist high fastball to drive in a run in the bottom of the 4th inning.
photo by J. Anthony Roberts
Turners Falls senior catcher Morgan Ozdarski (Phillips)
Frontier sophomore middle infielder Ally Hamelin (Phillips)
Frontier senior Gwen Thayer, Athol junior shortstop Olivia Smith.
Athol senior Liz Arpide, Mohawk senior catcher Jess Dawicki (MacDonald)
Athol junior first baseman Julia Salmond (Phillips)
Mohawk senior catcher Jess Dawicki (MacDonald)
With all of the question surrounding individual teams and players, there’s at least one sure thing in regard to softball’s Franklin County League in 2014 — a new league champion will be crowned.
With the defection of 2013 champion and Western Massachusetts Division II power Hampshire Regional High School to the Suburban League, it would appear that Turners Falls High School would be the odds-on choice to make its return to the top of the FCL standings, but the Indians are dealing with injuries and a severe lack of depth, something they haven’t experienced since before their current run of unprecedented success.
The main question surrounding most teams is pitching — seven teams lost their aces from 2013 (six to graduation), so there is a very real possibility that league-wide scoring could drastically increase. And overall program depth could play a major factor in deciding the FCL champion because no teams is expected to carry more than 14 players.
Even in spite of its issues, Turners still has the league’s best new pitcher and enough returning experience to be considered the favorite. If the Indians can weather the April storm, they’ll be even stronger in May and June.
Frontier Regional School also has new talent in the circle, as does Athol High School, and how those pitchers perform could determine whether either or both teams can challenge Turners.
Pioneer Valley Regional School got valuable postseason experience last year but needs to replace its battery and prove it should be in the championship hunt, while Hopkins Academy and Greenfield High School have enough talent to compete but both clubs need to do so consistently in order to make a run.
Mohawk Trail Regional High School has a new coach and a new attitude, but their depth will be tested after eight players left the program via graduation, transfer or other reasons.
The dark horse this season has to Mahar Regional School. The Senators have a new coach who experienced a decade of success with the baseball program and coached the junior varsity softball team to three consecutive winning seasons the last three years.
The league season is scheduled to open on April 9, with Frontier at Pioneer. Greenfield opens on April 11, also at Pioneer, then on April 15 it will be Mohawk at Mahar, Greenfield at Hopkins and Turners Falls at Pioneer. Athol will have the most preparation for the league season when it finally plays its first FCL game on April 16 at Frontier.
In the meantime, here’s a closer look at all eight FCL clubs (in order of their 2013 league finish):
Turners Falls (20-3, 14-2)
Gary Mullins enters his 35th season with obvious holes to fill due to five graduation losses. He’s also dealing with a major shortage of depth after four players, all seniors, chose not to return instead of trying to compete for a starting role — something that rarely happens in the Powertown.
Now comes word that junior infielder Danielle Conant (shoulder surgery) is out for the season, and sophomore center fielder Jordan Meattey (ACL surgery) is out for the regular season and likely the entire season, depleting depth even more.
For the first three weeks, Mullins will also need to replace sophomore all-league second baseman Jenna Putala (ACL surgery in November), who is expected to receive medical clearance to play in early May. Her return could be vital to the team’s success.
Turners’ opponents won’t feel much sympathy, because they know the Indians will still swing some mean sticks on offense and execute on defense, giving them a chance to win every time out. They also have five returning players, including his two most important starters.
Sophomore right-hander Mackenzie Phillips, who looked stellar in limited action as Dakota Smith-Porter’s backup, will take over the circle. The Indians may go as far as Phillips can take them, with her blazing fastball (clocked between 57-59 mph) and impressive movement.
She’ll also get to work with veteran catcher Morgan Ozdarski, one of only two seniors on the squad. Emma Johnson, one of the best role players during Mullins’ tenure in recent years and a player who has shown deceptive power at the plate, will likely start in center field.
Junior Mackenzie Salls, who has shown her steadiness both at the plate and on defense, returns at first base. Classmate Amber Caouette, who started last year in left field, is going to get a look at a spot on the left side of the infield and may also be a relief pitcher.
From there, most of the players Mullins will be evaluating before the opener are coming up from the successful junior varsity club.
Junior Nicole John and sophomore Hailey Whipple will likely get the first cracks at the vacant outfield spots. Sophomore Jessica Loynd could get a peek at third base and is a third option in the circle, while two highly-touted freshmen have an opportunity to earn starting spots. Gabby Arzuaga, an up-and-coming catcher, could open the season at second while Putala is out, and she can also play third. Melissa Hersey was one of the JV stars and is hoping to make a smooth upward transition as an outfielder, potentially as a starter.
Other players from the JV who Mullins needs more time to evaluate, simply because he isn’t as familiar with them, include junior Brittany Miller, sophomore Sabrina Petrowicz and freshmen Nicole Thibeault and Jordyn Fiske. He’s also evaluating two players from last year’s middle-school team: freshmen Amanda Savinski and Maddy Johnson (Emma’s sister).
“I have a good first baseman, I certainly have a quality young pitcher in Mac, Morgan is experienced behind the plate, Caouette will get a look at an infield position, and Emma will probably get an outfield spot ... and honestly, that’s all I know,” admitted Mullins. “There are a lot of things we need to learn and teach, so maybe we’ll be a decent softball team, but that remains to be seen. We’ve got a lot of work to do but the attitudes are good and I hope we can find a way to win some games. When we get Jenna back in the lineup, we should be competitive.”
Mullins added that former all-league outfielder Kelly Yankowski has joined his coaching staff as a part-time volunteer assistant.
Frontier (15-7, 12-4)
The Red Hawks had a breakout 2013 season, and second-year head coach Carrie Fydenkevez is hoping to make a similar run even though she needs to replace graduated all-league pitcher Krystal Enko and shortstop Cassidy Stankowski.
Senior McKayla Poissant will get the ball to start, and she’ll have arguably the best receiver in the league, junior catcher Courtney Newsome.
Fydenkevez said her corner infield is pretty-much set, with junior Cassidy Ciesluk at first base and senior Gwen Thayer at third. However, she has three players battling for the two middle infield spots – juniors Sarah Toomey and Amanda Robinson, and sophomore Ally Hamelin (Poissant’s backup). Depending on how she progresses, freshman Sarah Meunier is also another possibility, according to Fydenkevez.
“The middle infield in up for grabs,” said Fydenkevez. “It depends on who produces and who wants it more.”
Senior Caitlin Sullivan and sophomore Hannah Adams provide experience in left and center field, respectively. Sophomore Sara Corey and junior Ali Bardwell are among the candidates to fill the right-field vacancy. Robinson could also get a look if she isn’t playing infield.
Fydenkevez will fill out the roster with seniors Haley Dacyczyn (catcher) and Katie Fournier (first base), and juniors Alyssa Ouellette (infield-right field) and Mae Fydenkevez (first base).
“They’re a good, solid bunch of kids,” offered Coach Fydenkevez. “There is talent and potential, how they gel as a team will determine how far they go,” added the coach. “If they come together as a team, they can go very far.”
Athol (11-10, 10-6)
The Red Raiders need to replace their battery among the four losses to graduation, but head coach Colleen Bannister can make up for that with a squad that can hit the ball as well as any team around.
With a well-trained eye toward the future, Bannister said she’s going to go with freshman Jessica Soucie as her starting pitcher. Junior Molly Cleveland returns to the team after a year away and appears to have the inside track as the starting catcher.
Soucie will have plenty of veteran infield support to help her. Julia Salmond – who also could throw a few innings in a pinch – returns at first base, Kayla Rabideau will take over at second, speedster Olivia Smith is back at shortstop, and Lexi Halmett patrols third. All are juniors except for sophomore Rabideau.
Smith and Salmond will create plenty of offense as two of the top three returning hitters. Cleveland, an excellent athlete, will provide protection for Salmond in the lineup.
Junior Kiki Guerin, another one of the Raiders’ best hitters, will anchor the outfield in center. She’ll be joined by senior Liz Arpide in left field and senior Jordan Carey in right.
Depending on what lineup switches are made, Guerin could also see time at second base, Rabideau at third, and Tessa Neverett may wind up behind the plate if Cleveland plays elsewhere, likely third.
Athol also has some depth to work with. Ali Riddell can play a variety of roles, including center field, third base, and she’s also a likely pinch-hitter/pinch-runner candidate. Jessica Mann is smart baserunner who may pinch run as well as play outfield, Rielley Richards will be a utility middle infielder, and Amber Young is a backup catcher. All four are juniors.
Salmond will also serve as Soucie’s backup in the circle.
“I have a lot of flexibility because of their utility roles,” reported Bannister. “I feel we need to hit the ball and score a lot of runs because of how young our pitcher is. We have to play very solid defense behind Jess, and we need to do whatever we can to support her. She may have some growing pains, but she’ll also gain confidence during the year.”
Pioneer (10-11, 8-8)
The Panthers squeaked into the playoffs last season, then gave Turners the battle of its life before succumbing in that Western Mass. quarterfinals.
Head coach Joel Cole must now find replacements for both his pitcher and catcher, both graduates.
Cole will hand the ball to senior Erin Bertrand, who will move from first base to take over in the circle. He’s also gong to start his youth movement early and start athletic freshman Logan Anderson at catcher.
Seniors Nicole Bitzer (first base) and Taylor Flaherty (second base) give Pioneer veteran experience on the right side of the infield, while sophomore Katlyn Grover (shortstop) and junior Mary Luckham (third base) are the likely left-side infielders to start.
Grover is Bertrand’s backup. If she comes in to pitch, senior Tara O’Neil can fill in at second or short.
Senior Cheyenne Hubert leads a young outfield in center. Flanking her will be junior Kelly Sweeney and likely any one of three freshmen candidates — Anderson, Jessica Scoville or Sophia Peduzzi-Nelson.
The other two varsity players are both freshmen — Gabby Carpenter (left side infielder) and Brianna Jobst (utility infielder).
“I think we’ll have a very competitive team,” said Cole. “Erin and Katlyn are throwing hard, and I think we’ll be ready to play some ball. I’m looking forward to it.”
Greenfield (7-11, 5-11)
Rian (Lively) Lovett returns for a second season at her alma mater and needs to replace four players who graduated, but nine veterans on the roster could help the Green Wave earn an elusive tournament berth for the first time since 2009.
Junior Rachel LaPointe will embark on her first season as the starting pitcher, and she’ll be helped along by veteran catcher Rachel Pelc, a senior.
Senior Erica LaPointe returns to first base, but that’s where in the intrigue begins.
Lovett — who will be assisted by Kaitland Hager — has several options with the other three spots. Danielle Townsley is a possibility at third and second, Vicki Balis at short and third, and Mackenzie Plasse at second and short. All three players are seniors.
Then there’s the puzzle that is sophomore Kelsey Roberts; she’s a capable shortstop, but Lovett noted that she’s also coming off knee surgery and won’t be cleared to play until April 8. Even then, Lovett may elect to limit Roberts to playing third base or center field, or have her play in a utility role.
Townsley and Balis are also outfield options —Townsley in left, Balis in center.
Lovett said junior Chelsey Opalenik will likely start in right field.
Sophomore Leah Wallner is Greenfield’s all-purpose player. She’ll see time in left field and at first base, and also back up Rachel LePointe and Pelc.
Seaira Wolfe is another multi-purpose player Lovett could use at second base and center field. The fleet-footed junior may also see action as a pinch-runner or as the flex player.
Others who will jockey for innings include juniors Tory Farnham (middle infield-outfield) and Bridget Searle (outfield-third pitcher).
“I think we can definitely hold our own,” said Lovett. “We won seven games last year and I think we can win at least that many. The girls have more confidence this year. I can see it already.
“I have a good group of girls. As long as they keeps their heads in the game and make the routine plays, I think we’ll do well.”
Hopkins (5-13, 4-12)
The Golden Hawks will benefit from a senior-laden roster in Fred Roach’s third season as the head man, and they should be able to make an upward move in the FCL if they can successfully replace their two losses to graduation (pitcher Allie LaClair and shortstop Allie Butterfield).
Roach has two pitchers he can utilize if need be. Senior Kari Cristoforo is the starter, but if trouble arises he can go to junior Payton Ring.
Senior Kyra Michalak is preparing to start behind the plate, although she can also play the outfield if needed. Roach’s infield should also be experienced, with Savannah Ring returning to first base, Lacey Waskiewicz at second and Jera Barrett at third. All three are seniors.
Shortstop is a battle between sophomore Bridget Lashway and freshman Sandra Noonan. Roach said Noonan —who can also play third base — has looked sharp in early practices.
Seniors Nicole Morrison and Caroline Moriarty return to solidify center and right field, respectively, while left field is up for grabs between junior utility player Ally Huntoon and sophomore Caroline Judge (Savannah Ring’s backup).
Other reserves include sophomore Emily Young and freshman Kelsey Criostoforo.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Roach. “Hopefully we can get off to a good start. ... The future looks pretty good. We’ve got some freshmen and eighth-graders coming up, and they’re all pretty good athletically.”
Mahar (7-13, 3-13)
It’s been 10 seasons since Bill Curtis coached a varsity sport at Mahar (baseball, in 2004), but the veteran mentor will bring his experience to the softball diamond after recording three winning seasons as the junior-varsity coach.
Curtis will try to help push Mahar over the proverbial hump and into the postseason, but will have to fill the void of five graduated players, including slugger Tasha Polana.
Three seniors and four juniors will lead the squad this season.
Senior Kate Donelan is back and will open as the starting pitcher. Juniors will make up three-fourths of the infield, as Erin Robinson assumes a full-time role at first, Erin Jillson will start at second and Caitlyn Gullage patrols shortstop.
Senior Emily Melanson and junior Reilly Hamlett are the likely starters in left and center field.
Senior Lexi Robichaud, who missed the 2013 season due to injury, returns and will likely draw the starting third-base assignment.
Curtis has plenty of confidence in her JV graduates.
Freshman Kacy Ninteau is Donelan’s understudy in the circle, while junior Courtney White could find herself playing a variety of roles, including a flex player or an infield spot.
Freshman Mackenzie Tenney moves up take over at catcher, and junior transfer student Angel Breault may also see innings behind the plate. Whichever player catches, the other will likely play outfield. Curtis said he may also use the speedy Breault as a pinch-runner.
Sophomore Alex Temple added to the outfield depth, and freshman Joslyn O’Brien is a reserve infielder.
“I told them from the first day (of practice) my hope is to be competitive in an extremely competitive league, one of the most competitive in Western Mass., and maybe the whole state,” said Curtis. “I want to remain competitive and develop a program, I’m looking for a lot of leadership from the veterans, and we’re going to play as hard as we can.”
Curtis said he’ll probably carry 13 players to start.
“Our pitchers have worked hard in the offseason,” offered Curtis. “We’re going to focus on pitching and defense, and we’re going to try to manufacture runs along the way.”
Mohawk (2-16, 1-15)
Former Warrior multi-sport athlete Katy Williams takes over the helm of her alma mater and inherits young but somewhat experienced squad.
She’ll have to replace some of the depth lost due to the aforementioned defections, but 13 players will make up the roster nucleus, with occasional JV call-ups.
Mohawk will be led by senior catcher Jessica Dawicki, one of the league’s best backstops.
All four of the returning juniors will likely start — Samantha Davis and Jenna Sencabaugh are penciled in as the corner outfielders, Leigh Shippee is back at shortstop and Crystal Stevens will scoop ’em up at first base. Davis can also play second base in a pinch.
Sophomore Samantha Cairns will draw the starting nod at second base, while classmate Briana Benz is Williams’ choice at third, and freshman Rebecca Scranton will open the season in center field.
Williams’ major issue at the moment is lack of experienced pitching. Sophomore Hope Lively and freshman Emily Page are the only girls currently working in the circle, and she’ll likely use both throughout the season.
Lively is also a backup second baseman .
Others who will start the season as reserves and work their way into the lineup include Madison Roccio (first base-catcher) and freshmen Olivia Dubrule (third base) and Hayley Lowell (shortstop).
“It’s a lot of responsibility but it is very exciting. I really enjoy it,” said Williams of her first varsity job. “I like that it’s a young team. That means there’s potential.”