NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck softball team prepares for the season minus a few gloves and bats that led them to a Naugatuck Valley League title and a Class L runner-up in the past three seasons.
Three-quarters of its infield graduated along with some of the biggest bats in the lineup.
The Greyhounds will need to replace four-time All-NVL second baseman Julia Longo, All-NVL shortstop Alexis Granahan, third baseman Andrea Granahan and All-NVL catcher-outfielder Skye Stella along with outfielder Liz Hufnagel.
That has created opportunities and a little friendly competition for the open spots and has Naugatuck at the top of its game heading into the season.
The Greyhounds went 14-6 last season and return junior starting pitcher Alexa Marucci, who tossed three shutouts, along with sophomore catcher Sydney Cotto, which gives the Greyhounds an experienced battery.
Naugatuck doesn’t come into the season empty-handed as it returns a solid core of seven seniors to lead the way. Captain Daniella Stoehrer at first base is the only returning starter in the infield. The Greyhounds will have three captains in the outfield with Melissa Kirschbaum in left, Melissa LaBonte in center and Lianne Wallace in right.
Seniors Joelle Louth, Molly Fallon, Victoria Hendricks and Victoria Louth all add to the experience coming back for the Greyhounds.
“So far I have been impressed with the work ethic of the team,” said Naugatuck coach Kevin Wesche, who along with assistant coach Fred Scheithe, enters his ninth year at the helm. “The competitiveness going on at each position will only make us a better team. We haven’t had this kind of competition for spots in many years. We have a lot of younger kids battling for spots. If it comes down to equal gloves it will go to whoever is batting the best.”
JV coach Maribeth Ford enters her fifth season and has the younger girls primed to step up and make a valuable contribution at the varsity level.
Naugatuck managed to score over 160 runs two years in a row and to lose the consistency on offense with the graduation of its top four bats in the lineup could make some games a little closer this season.
“We lost a little bit at the plate as far as our batting is concerned,” said Wesche. “But people are going to be surprised at what we bring to the plate this year and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Junior Lizzie Glick and freshman Erica Bohuski are in a battle for the second base spot. The third base and shortstop competition is a four-way battle between senior Joelle Louth, sophomores Sarah Chandler and Stephanie Lima and freshman Gillian Fortier.
Lima and Fallon will also compete with Cotto for time behind the plate. While Marucci brings back experience to the pitcher’s circle, Naugatuck has a few more arms that could add to the team’s strength. Bohuski can also see time in the circle along with sophomore Nina Kosciuszek.
“We have two or three girls who will be vying for playing time,” said Wesche. “Right now we are going with our veteran pitcher in
Marucci but we do have some competitors both pitching and behind the plate.
“It all comes down to who can block the ball behind the plate and make the throws when necessary,” Wesche added. “Our pitchers need to hit their spots, not walking people and get some movement on the ball and the defense needs to handle whatever is put into play.”
Wesche thinks the Hounds face a difficult schedule in the always-tough NVL.
“I think every game will be a challenge for us, especially with Torrington, Holy Cross, Watertown, Woodland and Seymour,” Wesche said. “There is no team we can afford to take lightly. The goal is to get enough wins to qualify for the states and to go as far as we can.”
The Greyhounds will get the season underway April 6 at Derby and will travel to Torrington April 8 and Norwich Free Academy April 9. Naugy’s home opener is April 13 against Crosby.