By KEN MORSE
Ever since Riley Kane was 4 years old, Grandpa Pete was there to show her the ropes. That began the delicate process of separating family and fastballs. Pete Calandro had been coaching softball in what seemed like all of his life. He coached his oldest daughter Kim (Gallo) and she went on to pitch for the Naugatuck Greyhounds. He also coached a travel team the Vipers with Fred Scheithe.
“I started coaching Riley at 4 years old on Tee-Ball for Tots,” said Calandro. “My wife Gail, and my daughters Kim and Kelly, we went down there and had a group of kids that played together for quite a few years. We had Sam Mullin and Lauryn Ramalho, they all went to Tee-Ball for Tots. Then we went on to Little League and before you know it I get a call from Kelly that she is taking over as president for the Valley Fusion organization and she asks if I want to coach a travel ball team with her.”
That team went 54-4 to win the 2015 10U Nationals and started the momentum for this year’s Woodland state championship team. The kids from that team stayed together and moved up to the next level for the Valley Fusion.
The 12U team Kane and her friends played on went on to win 55 games, and in one tournament, out of 44 teams they were named for the sportsmanship award by the umpires and administrators, an award that Grandpa Pete is most proud of.
“They are really good kids,” he said. “I’m more proud of what they have accomplished outside the lines.”
Calandro knows, too, that he didn’t cut Riley any slack.
“I think coaching my granddaughter, she probably had the roughest time,” Calandro said. “If I have anything to regret, it’s that I was tougher on her, but in the long run I think it has helped her to become a better player.”
“My grandfather has been my coach ever since I have been playing this game,” said Kane, who will be playing at Western New England next year. “He’s definitely harder on me.”
When your grandfather is your coach and your mother, Kelly, is the head coach and your aunt, Kim, is your pitching coach, it gets kind of hard to separate family and fastballs. So when the season is over the talk still winds its way around to the softball diamond, and that suits Riley just fine, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As far as once the season is over we put softball away? We don’t,” Kane said. “We are always talking about it and that’s okay.”
The family relationship continued in high school when Calandro became an assistant coach for Loren Luddy at Woodland.
“When I got to high school he moved up to that level with me,” Kane said. “That was comforting, and to start out my career with two no-hitters, it really helped to me feel like I belonged.”
There was plenty of support to help Kane’s growth into an All-State pitcher.
“I think having Kylie Bulinski as her catcher really helped Riley to settle in and just concentrate on her pitching and not get too preoccupied with the batter or game situations,” said Gallo.
“My aunt Kim has been a huge help for me,” added Kane. “She has been my coach for a long time now. She was pretty successful when she pitched for Naugatuck and she really helped me to become a successful pitcher as well.”
Kane is a competitor at heart, having played four years of basketball for the Hawks earning two All-NVL Copper Division awards while scoring 435 career points. In her senior season on the hardwood, Kane began the season scoring 19 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the first game of the season. On her senior night game, she set a school record with 26 rebounds and scored 15 points.
It was on the softball diamond where Kane really excelled. In her first two starts as a varsity softball pitcher for Woodland she threw back-to-back no-hitters. Her senior year showed her All-NVL and All-State status, going 12-0 on the mound with a 0.32 ERA and 93 strikeouts while batting .505 in 93 at-bats. She split time at pitcher with junior Sam Sosnovich.
“I knew Sam from Fusion, so I knew we would be sharing the pitching duties [starting in 2021],” Kane said. “That was no big deal.”
“Even if it was difficult for her to share the pitcher’s circle, you would have never known it,” said Luddy. “That is one of her greatest assets: keeping her emotions in check, especially on the field. Looking at her out there, you wouldn’t be able to tell if she was winning or losing and that is what made her the team player that she is when Sam Sosnovich came along. All Riley wanted to do was win a state championship, and it didn’t really matter to her what role she played. She just wanted to win or help the team win.”
Kane started at shortstop in the state final against Oxford. Her RBI single in the first inning proved to be the game-winning run in support of Sosnovich.
“I’m sure it had to be tough not pitching in the state championship game, so what does she do?” Luddy said. “She goes out and gets the winning hit. That is Riley Kane going out and getting the job done no matter what.”
This is one piece of a five-part series looking back at the Woodland softball team’s 2022 Class M state championship. Stories include the team members’ opinions on the squad’s legacy; the team’s connection to the 2015 Valley Fusion 10U national championship team; head coach Loren Luddy’s two-decade career at Woodland; the grandfather-granddaughter bond between assistant coach Pete Calandro and pitcher Riley Kane; and Kyle Brennan’s column on Kylie Bulinski establishing herself as the best female athlete in school history.