BEACON FALLS — The Hawks will have a different look and approach on the softball diamond this season.
Woodland ended last year in the second round of the Class M tournament and with a record of 18-6. The season’s conclusion marked the end of an era for the softball program, which lost Brianna Pacileo, Samantha Lee, Natalie Veneri and Rachel Starkey to graduation. Pacileo, Veneri and Starkey were three-year starters for the Hawks. Lee spent all four years at Woodland as the Hawks’ starting pitcher.
“You don’t replace, necessarily, a pitcher who’s pitched for me for four years in Samantha Lee,” head coach Loren Luddy. “You do something different.”
Luddy said the team is taking a different approach this year.
The Hawks have two returning pitchers with some varsity experience, led by co-captain Stephanie Kiley.
Luddy said Kiley, who is the only senior on the squad, is the epitome of a team-first player.
“Stephanie, since freshman year, is one of those players that has just been team-first from the second she walked on the field,” Luddy said.
Kiley has done whatever the team needed throughout her career.
“She’s gone everywhere you need her to go, one through everything in the lineup,” Luddy said. “She is an excellent example for the younger players to how you play where the team needs you, and you do your best.”
Sophomore Madeline Hupprich will also be looked upon to pitch this year. Hupprich pitched every game last year for the freshmen team. Although she saw limited time in the circle for the varsity team, she spent the second half of last season playing second base for varsity.
“She has varsity game experience,” Luddy said.
There will also be a new face, or a couple new faces, behind the plate this season. Starkey spent the past three years catching for Lee.
Junior Samantha White and sophomore Emily Brouillette are working behind the plate. Whether the Hawks go with one or two catchers will depend on chemistry, Luddy said. White has more experience catching for Kiley, while Brouillette has caught for Hupprich.
Woodland’s pair of pitchers and catching duo offer the Hawks the luxury of versatility. Kiley and Hupprich can play the infield, while White and Brouillette can play the outfield. Luddy said each will having a starting spot, and their versatility will make it easier to rotate throughout the season.
The batting order will also need to be solidified, as there are four holes in the top of the lineup that need to be filled.
“It’s a matter of other kids stepping up and filling in that top of the lineup spot,” Luddy said.
Juniors Carla Piccolo, a co-captain, Cameron Caswell and White all had big hits in key games last year. Luddy will be looking for more consistency at the plate this season from the trio.
Luddy is also expecting juniors Samantha Buzgo and Gabriella Bedryczuk to work their way into the lineup and make a bigger contribution this season.
“I’m looking for a very combined team effort,” Luddy said of the season.
Everyone looked to Pacileo, Veneri, Starkey and Lee in big spots last year, Luddy said.
“Now, it’s a great opportunity to have nine and 10 kids all performing well instead of a couple superstars here and there,” she said.
Luddy said she’s looking forward to fielding a lineup that won’t have a hole in it. The Hawks might not have someone with 10 homeruns, she added, but she expects everybody bating one through nine to be able to hit.
Luddy is also looking forward to actually getting out on the field. As of Tuesday, the team had yet to practice outside due to snow that has stuck around much longer than usual this year. The team is scheduled to scrimmage Masuk Thursday and a scrimmage with defending Class S champion Thomaston is set for Monday.
Luddy said both teams will offer a good litmus test for the Hawks to see how well they are coming together.
Woodland is scheduled to open the regular season with a stiff test April 8 on the road versus Torrington. The Hawks’ home-opener is set for April 9 when Naugatuck comes to town.