Hawks blend senior leadership, talent

The Woodland softball team will be lead by senior co-captains, from left, Rachel Sterky, Brianna Pacileo, Natalie Veneri and Samantha Lee. –LUKE MARSHALL

The Woodland softball team will be lead by senior co-captains, from left, Rachel Sterky, Brianna Pacileo, Natalie Veneri and Samantha Lee. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — A strong senior quartet hopes to lead the Woodland softball team back to the top of the Naugatuck Valley League.

Senior co-captains Brianna Pacileo, Samantha Lee, Natalie Veneri and Rachel Starkey all have multiple years of starting experience and will occupy key positions for the Hawks this season.

Lee has been the starting pitcher for her entire Woodland career, and she’s been throwing to Starkey for the last two full seasons. Pacileo is a two-year starter at first base, and Veneri is a multi-year starter in the outfield.

Lee, Starkey and Pacileo were All-NVL Brass Division selections last season. Those three, plus Veneri, will pace a lineup filled mostly with sophomores.

“We have a solid four senior captains that are experienced at the varsity level and are good leaders,” Woodland head coach Loren Luddy said. “Other than that, we’re young.”

The youth is talented, though. In Tuesday’s scrimmage against defending Class L state champion Masuk, the meat of Woodland’s lineup was packed with non-seniors. Junior Steph Kiley batted second, and sophomores Sam White and Cameron Caswell were the third and fourth hitters.

Caswell broke onto the scene last year with a tremendous freshman season in which she hit a team-high two home runs. She had two hits Tuesday against Masuk pitcher Tatum Buckley, the reigning Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year who was named to the 2014 MaxPreps Preseason All-American squad.

In fact, Woodland scored three runs against Buckley in the scrimmage, which Masuk won 7-3. Buckley went 27-0 with a 0.37 ERA last year and tossed 18 shutouts, four no-hitters and two perfect games. It was an encouraging sign for the Hawks, who will face several skilled pitchers in the NVL.

Torrington senior Sydney Matzko, who will play at North Carolina, and Seymour sophomore Raeanne Geffert led their teams to the NVL championship game last year. The Hawks will play the Red Raiders once and the Wildcats twice during the regular season.

“We’ll be competitive in the NVL,” Luddy said. “The NVL has some very strong returning pitchers this year.”

But Luddy is confident with her battery of Lee and Starkey, who have as much experience as any unit in the league. Lee racked up the third most strikeouts of any NVL pitcher last season in leading Woodland to the NVL semifinals and the Class M second round.

“She’ll keep us competitive in every game,” Luddy said. “Sam’s got experience on the mound and Rachel’s got experience as a catcher.”

Caswell will move from third base to shortstop, and Kiley will shift from short to second base, replacing the graduated Brooke Leshin. Sophomore Gabby Bedryczuk is the favorite to win the third base job.

Veneri will move to center field to replace Nicole Fowler, an All-NVL selection, while White and sophomore Carla Piccolo figure to occupy the corner spots. Sophomore Alyssa Amarosa will also be in the outfield rotation.

Woodland’s bench is full of youngsters, too, with Emily Brouillette, Sam Buzgo, McKenna Cronin and Maddie Hupprich lying in wait.

“The seniors work hard and practice hard,” Luddy said. “The younger players just need to get more experience and build their confidence. Knowing they can compete on the varsity level is huge right now.”

The Hawks will open the season April 9 at Sacred Heart before visiting Crosby on April 11. Woodland’s home opener will be April 12 in a nonconference game against New Canaan.

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