Hawks look to reclaim power position in NVL

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After missing the end of last season due to injury, sophomore Samantha Lee will return to the mound healthy as the Hawks’ starting pitcher this season. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — A pair of Wirsings are ready to lead the Woodland softball team in 2012.

Senior infielders Angie and Emily Wirsing are both multi-year starters are will try together to captain the Hawks back to their usual position of power in the Naugatuck Valley League.

Last season, Woodland finished 16-4 in the regular season with an all-new pitching staff, but the Hawks lost both of their first-round tournament games.

This year, with most of the infield and starting pitcher Samantha Lee returning from injury, things could be looking up again for the Hawks with several players having experience in different spots.

“Over the last half of the season, with Angie pitching, we had to shuffle the infield around,” coach Loren Luddy said. “They’re definitely experienced, but playing some different positions now.”

Angie Wirsing will be the team’s backup pitcher, but she and Emily Wirsing will patrol the left side of the infield at third base and shortstop, respectively. They will be just as important in the middle of the lineup. Last year, Angie hit .379 with team-leading totals in homers (three) and RBI (23) while Emily hit .415 with a team-leading 26 hits.

“We’re looking to Angie and Emily Wirsing to step up and fill the leadership gap,” Luddy said. “We had excellent captains last year, so they’re really stepping up this year to fill in that spot.”

Woodland returns its Nos. 2-4 hitters, but the Hawks need someone to fill the leadoff spot as well as the Nos. 5 and 6 holes.

Leadoff duty may fall on sophomore Brianna Pacileo, who hit .357 with nine runs scored and five RBI in her freshman season. She’ll be filling a hole at first base for the first time in her career.

“She moved to first base, a position she’s never played before, but she embraced it and is looking great,” Luddy said. “Even as a sophomore, she’s emerging as a leader. She can really anchor the infield from first base. She’s been leading off in the preseason and doing a great job with that.”

Next to Pacileo in the infield will be Brooke Leshin, who stood out defensively at second base throughout her sophomore season. She also hit .288 with 15 runs and nine RBI.

“Brooke Leshin made some big plays in some big spots last year,” Luddy said. “We’re looking for her to be doing even more this year.”

As usually is the case, the Hawks have a strong pitcher to rely upon with Lee healthy for her sophomore season after she was forced to miss the last few weeks of 2011 with an injury.

“Sam always has her head in the game,” Luddy said. “She’s consistent and she knows how to throw strikes when we need them. I’m hoping she’ll have increased confidence this year knowing that she has had some success in the NVL. She’s more comfortable and familiar now with the fielders around her.”

She’ll probably be throwing to Rachel Starkey, who will replace Becca Norton after the multi-year starter hit a team-leading .475 with 17 RBI last season.

The outfield took the biggest hit from graduation, as Lindsay Boland and Kara Hames are no longer out there after multiple years of experience. Junior Nicole Fowler is the only returner, and she’ll be joined by Alyssa Skibo, Natalie Veneri, and Kelly Sherman.

“I need Alyssa Skibo, Natalie Veneri, and Kelly Sherman to fill those outfield positions and cover the ground that Lindsay and Kara did last year,” Luddy said. “They’ve showed the potential to do that so far. We’ve been running them all over the place.”

Steph Kiley could also see time as a backup infielder and pitcher.

Woodland has been among the top teams in the NVL nearly every year since the program’s inception a decade ago, and Luddy thinks that could be the case again if the team can learn on the job.

“The team is returning with the expectation that if they play their best, they can win games and be successful,” Luddy said. “They have the attitude and motivation it takes to have a winning record, but it’s just going to take being consistent. We’ve always struggled with the different pitching styles in the NVL with one speed one day and a dramatically different speed on another day. It will come down to hitting in key spots.”