NAUGATUCK — A group of softball players who grew up together in the Union City Little League softball program continued to get better each year. The parents were hoping to keep these girls playing together as a team over the summer but without a travel team in town their options were few.
Rick Pellicia, Jay Langhans and former Naugatuck girls basketball coach Gail Cheney got together and explored options to join a travel league organization. Last fall the Naugatuck Mirage began a 12U team under the umbrella of the CT Mirage, a softball organization founded in 2002 by David Bornstein.
The CT Mirage has two 12U teams, two 14U teams and a 16U showcase team playing in tournaments during the fall and spring seasons. Over 100 players that have played in the organization have gone on to play at the collegiate level.
“There are a lot of travel programs out there,” said Cheney. “We weren’t looking to break the bank here. We just wanted to give these kids an opportunity to stay together and play once the UCLL was over.”
The team formed last fall as a 12U team with 14 players. Ten players were from Union City Little League, one was from Peter J. Foley and the rest were from out of town. The team coached by Cheney along with Pellicia and Langhans were quite successful compiling a 17-5 record.
“Back in the day Fred Scheithe and Pete Calandro started the CT Vipers, a travel softball team that was the feeder program for the Naugatuck high school team,” said Naugy head softball coach Kevin Wesche. “We haven’t had one since, until now. The Valley Fusion had a couple of our players but it’s mainly Woodland players. Our older players compete with the Rapids. So this is really our feeder program of girls coming into high school with a little more experience. Gail does a great job helping to bridge that gap.”
Eden Fears played infield, Kaylee Fredericks was in left field, Layla Urso took up right field and Chloe Whipple was the catcher on the first Naugy Mirage team. This fall the team has moved up a bracket to the 14U after playing three tournaments through the spring season.
The team heads into the fall season with 11 players and a renewed confidence after experiencing some success last fall and through the spring season. The team had a well attended bonding night when they went to Dunkin’ Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, to take in a game against the Savannah Bananas.
“It was great experience for the team,” said Cheney. “This is the same team from last fall, minus four players. We picked it up a notch raising the age group to 14U. In the spring we came in second in one tournament, reached the semifinals in another and had one rained out.”
“Over the summer they played for Naugatuck in the Joan Joyce League. We had Alyssa Roberts (St. Joseph University) come down and work with our pitchers. Kendall Allen also came to work with the girls and Leah Chatfield from Naugatuck came in to talk with the team. Assistant coaches Tim Myers and Sarah (Dunn) Kwasinskas have the girls ready for the next challenge.”
Pitchers Carly Luchina (2B), Angie Shivas (3B) and Miley Massicotte (2B) will help to keep the opponents in check with Bella Pabon (3B) catching behind the plate. In the outfield is Cynthia Singleton in left, Maddie Kwasinskas in center and Tessa Singley in right, along with outfielders Hayley McLaughlin and Sophia Howley. Shoring up the infield is Madeline Cheney at first base and Samantha Myers at shortstop.
“This goes way beyond playing on a softball team,” said Joshlynn Anderson, mother of catcher Bella Pabon. “When my daughter started with this team she was struggling with her confidence. But Gail was able to relate to her in a way I couldn’t. With this team, it’s all about the coaching. Each girl has improved tremendously because of the coaching.”
“With so much peer pressure going on today and especially at this age, this team is like a safe haven for these girls. They can lean on one another and the bond they are developing you can see it in their attitude. They are so respectful and always looking out for one another. It goes way beyond being on a team they are part of a family here.”
It takes fundraising to take some of the burden off the families involved. The town of Naugatuck has responded the way this sports community has always responded supporting its own.
“We had so much positive feedback from the community,” said Cheney. “Even Mayor Pete has supported our efforts. We meet throughout the winter once the season ends. We take a two week break for the holidays and then get right back at it with fielding and hitting drills. By the time they enter high school they will be ready to contribute to the Greyhounds success.”