Woodland poised to challenge NVL

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Woodland junior Samantha Lee practices March 22 at the school in Beacon Falls. Lee, the Hawks’ starting pitcher, will return to circle this season healthy after missing portions of the past two years due to injuries. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland junior Samantha Lee practices March 22 at the school in Beacon Falls. Lee, the Hawks’ starting pitcher, will return to circle this season healthy after missing portions of the past two years due to injuries. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Woodland softball pitcher Samantha Lee hasn’t had the greatest luck in her first two years as the Hawks’ starter. But head coach Loren Luddy is hoping this is the year the junior can be a season-long force in the circle.

Lee had promising starts to each of her first two seasons as Woodland’s starting pitcher only to see both derailed by injuries. She’s healthy headed into this season, and a healthy Lee should equal competitive Hawks.

“She definitely keeps us in every game,” Luddy said. “She has great control of her pitches. She’s smart. As long as the offense can put up a couple of runs, she can hold us in any game. We’re fortunate to have five returning starters to our batting order to give her the run support.”

Five players coming back this season all hit over .300 last season. They include senior second baseman Brooke Leshin, junior shortstop Brianna Pacileo, junior catcher Rachel Starkey, junior outfielder Natalie Veneri and sophomore outfielder Courtney Jurzynski.

All five, plus Lee, who was a major part of the Hawks’ lineup before her injury last season, could give Woodland the offensive punch it needs to back up Lee’s steady pitching.

One area on which Luddy wants to focus this year is hitting line drives instead of fly balls. She said her team wasted too many opportunities by missing gaps in the outfield.

“We’re looking to leave not as many runners stranded in scoring position,” Luddy said. “We did a pretty good job getting runners on and moving them along. We hit some long fly balls last year. We have to go with pitches and find the holes in the outfield.”

The Hawks have shuffled around their infield with Leshin, the team’s lone all-Naugatuck Valley League selection last year, being the only one staying at her position. Pacileo will move from first base to shortstop while Steph Kiley and Rhiannon Ovchar could fill in other infield spots. Luddy also hopes for freshmen Cameron Caswell and Carla Piccolo to contribute.

Woodland seniors Brooke Leshin, left, and Nicole Fowler will lead the Hawks this season as co-captains. –LUKE MARSHALL
Woodland seniors Brooke Leshin, left, and Nicole Fowler will lead the Hawks this season as co-captains. –LUKE MARSHALL

“In the infield, people are in different positions,” Luddy said. “Brooke is the only player returning to her previous infield position. All the players have experience in the infield but they’ll have to adjust to their new positions and figure out how to work with each other.”

Leshin and senior center fielder Nicole Fowler are the team’s co-captains.

“We have a solid crew returning,” Luddy said.

Seymour is expected to be the league favorite with last year’s runner-up, Torrington, being a close second. Luddy thinks her team has a chance to challenge in what should be a competitive Brass Division.

“I think we’re going to be competitive,” Luddy said. “Seymour’s always strong and we always have a tough time hitting their pitchers and keeping down their power hitters. Torrington has a great pitcher and Naugatuck can always score. There are some good young pitchers coming into the league for a lot of the other teams. I think there will be a lot of very good, very close games, especially in our division.”

The Hawks start their season April 3 at St. Paul before opening their home year April 5 against Watertown.