By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
Naugatuck and Woodland softball players spent a majority of the summer shinning on the softball diamond.
Travel softball and summer leagues have a tendency to turn high school rivals into teammates and vice versa.
The Watertown Rapids’ roster of 15 players had a host of NVL players, including Naugatuck’s Alyssa Roberts, Kendall Allen, Nadia Cestari and Felicia Salvati as well as Woodland’s Cassidy Doiron and May Dawes. Together with other NVL and college players, the Rapids finished the season 30-7 and claimed the U18 USSSA Eastern National Championship this summer in Ocean City, Md.
“Eight out of our nine high school players were All-NVL and we have gone 77-19-5 over the last two summers,” head coach Chris Martin said. “The dedication of these girls, especially this season, was just unbelievable.”
“They may have been rivals in high school but they have a lot of respect for one another and are friends on and off the field,” he added. “I’m so proud of what they accomplished this season.”
Martin’s stepdaughter, Brianna Catalani, who played at Watertown and will attend the University St. Joseph in the fal, was named the offensive player of the Eastern National tournament. Doiron was named the tournament MVP, three years after her older sister, Payton, won the award.
“That’s a lot of success coming from one team,” Martin said.
Doiron, who plays first base for the Hawks, is going into her senior year at Woodland. She belted three of the team’s four home runs in the tournament and had four RBI in the 13-7 win over Polar Elite of Pennsylvania in the championship July 30.
“I struggled a little bit at the start of the high school season,” said Cassidy, who is in her third year with the Rapids. “I have gained a lot of confidence over the summer playing against some strong competition.”
“I know it’s a little strange having rivals as teammates, but we have all grew up playing together and we are much more friends than rivals,” she added. “I think this will really help our returning players who experienced this to have an even stronger chemistry going into our senior season at Woodland.”
To reach the championship game, the Rapids needed to get by another team that was loaded with talent from Woodland and Naugatuck — the Valley Fusion coached by Kelly Kane.
The Fusion (31-10) had Woodland’s Riley Kane, Chelsea Donovan, Rory Nolan and Isabella Kraemer as well as Naugatuck’s Samantha Mullin and Lauryn Ramalho on the roster. The team finished the first two days of the tournament undefeated and played the Rapids in the winner’s bracket, where Watertown won, 3-2.
Kraemer hit a two-run double to give the Fusion an early 2-0 lead early on. Dawes’ two-run single tied the game in the bottom of the fifth.
The game came down to the final inning. Allen’s two-out single and a pair of walks loaded the bases. Nadia Cestari reached on an infield single to give the Rapids the victory.
The Fusion finished the tournament 5-3 and placed ninth among the field of 55 teams.
“A lot of the Rapids players came through the Fusion organization,” Kelly Kane said. “When they aged out we didn’t have any place for them so they moved on to the Rapids.
“These girls have been playing with or against one another for quite a few years and have become real good friends. We had a good run this summer but as usual when we play against one another it came down to the last inning.”
Riley Kane, who is going into her senior year at Woodland, pitched and played shortstop for the Fusion.
“I think playing against this type of competition is good exposure for all of us as we head into our senior year and get a chance to defend our NVL title,” she said.
Some players are moving on to their collegiate careers.
Roberts, a pitcher, will be a freshman at American International College in the fall, and parting ways with Allen, her long time battery mate at Naugatuck.
“I will admit it’s an awesome feeling being a national champion,” Roberts said. “But it’s kind of bittersweet since I will be heading off to college in a few weeks.”
“It will be different and I will miss Kendall as my catcher,” she added. “We have played together since 10 or 11 years old. This experience will certainly help me moving forward as I get set to step on the collegiate softball field.”
Allen said the championship was a nice sendoff for Roberts.
Personally, she said, playing third base and shortstop this summer allowed her to experience other positions.
“It gives me a broader perspective of the game and will help me in my overall game,” said Allen, who batted .430 this summer.
“I think playing in this kind of environment will help all the players gain some exposure to colleges and coaches,” she added.
For players looking to stay a bit closer to home, the Joan Joyce Softball League offered plenty opportunity to shine.
The league’s championship game featured two teams that boasted talent from Woodland and Naugatuck.
The NVL Lightning, which had players from WCA, Watertown, Wilby, Crosby and Woodland, faced Naugatuck, a team comprised of players from Oxford, Watertown, Holy Cross and Naugatuck, for the championship Aug. 10 at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury.
The NVL Lightning claimed the title in a 7-5 win. Woodland’s Emily Beyer belted a home run for the champions.
Cestari and Allen played for Naugatuck when they were not traveling with the Rapids. The roster had plenty of borough talent, including recent graduates Samantha Valentine and Kayshla Diaz.
Steph Sutherland led Naugatuck with 27 hits followed by Avery Crockett with 24. Cestari (4 home runs) and Allen (2 home runs) led the team in the power numbers. Quinn Barry, Sutherland, Valentine and Diaz all belted one home run each.
Laniah Diaz, Leah Chatfield, Bethany Carroll, Sydney Crockett and Phoebe Jagello played for Naugatuck along with City Hill eighth-graders Quinn Barry and Alona Reboira.
Naugatuck head coach Lizzie Glick said the team had an exciting summer.
“It’s great to be able to help these girls develop their game,” she said. “We had some travel players help us when they could and we have had a few City Hill players pitch in. Just to have the opportunity to play a season was a success. Add in playing for the league title that was just an experience that will help these players grow in confidence.”