NEW BRITAIN - Softball season is here and, as always, expectations are high for most of the local high school teams.
Southington should once again be a favorite to reach, if not win, the Class LL tournament after it surprisingly fell short last year. Head coach Davina Hernandez will have to replace some top talent that had been mainstays over the past few seasons and while that might be a problem for some programs, it should not be much of an issue for the Blue Knights.
Outside of Southington, three other teams - New Britain, Newington and Berlin - were able to reach postseason play in 2016. Plainville, Goodwin Tech and Innovation each fell short, with the Ravens coming up just one win shy and the Gladiators winning six games in Class S. The Blue Devils only won three games in 2016 and this season should be about improvement for the program.
As is the case in every season, though, only time will tell.
Here is a closer look at the teams:
Head Coach: Joel Simmone (4th season)
Last Year: 8-12, lost in first round of Class LL tournament
Key Losses: Jazanyia Irizarry (Third Base)
Key Returnees: Jamyra Irizarry (Sr, First Base), Paola Bronner (Sr, Second Base), Gabby Roy (Jr, Shortstop), Cristina Velazquez (Catcher), Gianna Gonzalez (Pitcher)
Outlook: New Britain managed to squeak into the Class LL tournament last season, making it the third straight year it qualified before being bumped out in the first round by Newtown. This season, the Hurricanes are looking to get back to the playoffs but face some hurdles along the way. Inexperience could be the main problem. The team lost third baseman Jazanyia Irizarry to graduation as well as a starting pitcher and two starting outfielders. But New Britain might also be without first baseman Jamyra Irizarry with a possible season-ending back injury.
“If we lose any starters to injury, it could be a potentially tough season,” Hurricanes head coach Joel Simmone said. “We always have issues but persevere and do our best.”
There is some good news, however. New Britain returns all-conference shortstop Gabby Roy, who looks to be the team’s main offensive threat, and brings back second baseman Paola Bronner, catcher Cristina Velazquez and pitcher Gianna Gonzalez. The Hurricanes also have some up-and-coming freshmen that, Simmone believes, have some potential and could make an impact right away.
This could either be a dangerous team to watch out for or one that struggles in the end.
Head Coach: Jason Pires (14th season, 180-96 record)
Last Year: 15-7, lost in second round of Class M Tournament
Key Losses: None
Key Returnees: Vanessa Reimer (Sr, Shortstop), Jaclyn Arute (Sr, Outfield), Haley Hauptfeld (Sr, Catcher), Emily Cooney (Jr, Second Base), Grace Reimer (Jr, Third Base), Alexa Lanteri (Jr, First Base), Lindsay Walsh (So, Outfield), Michele Cohen (Jr, Pticher)
Outlook: The Redcoats finished out their 2016 campaign with another double-digit win season and Class M playoff berth and it would be hard not to at least expect similar, if not better, results this season.
Berlin returns a significant amount of its roster with no major losses to report and that depth and experience should go a long way, both offensively and defensively. The Redcoats have eight players that played in 20 games or more last season, with seven hitting .300 or better. Vanessa Reimer and Jaclyn Arute hit .564 and .543 respectively, while Alexa Lanteri (.431) and Michele Cohen (.400) were not far behind. Emily Cooney (.371), Grace Reimer (.350) and Lindsay Walsh (.343) rounded out the team’s top hitters.
While the veteran experience, hitting and defense are the team’s strengths heading into the season, Berlin head coach Jason Pires’ one concern is the depth of his pitching staff, which could put some pressure on the offense to produce.
Still, Pires sees his team being able to play with any opponent on the Redcoats’ schedule.
“I expect us to finish over .500 and compete in every game this season,” the head coach said.
Head Coach: Davina Hernandez (4th season, 92-3 Record)
Last Year: 20-2, lost in Class LL semifinal
Key Losses: Natalie Wadolowski (Third Base), Brenna Sarantides (Pitcher), Janette Wadolowski (Shortstop), Nicolette St. Amand, Emily Mankus, Megan Mahon (Outfield)
Expected Key Returnees: Maggie Scafariello (Sr, Catcher), Michelle Woodruff (Sr, Second Base), Katie Semmel (Sr, Outfied), Frankie Ferrante (Jr, First Base), Kara Zazzaro (Jr, Pitcher/Utility), Amanda Delorme (Sr, Outfield), Sarah Minkiewicz (Jr),
Players to Watch For: Tori Aldieri (Jr, Infield), Chrissy Marotto (So, Infield) and Abby Lamson (So, Infield), Sarah Myrick (Jr, Outfield), Mikaela June (Jr, Outfield), Delaney Picard (Sr, Pitcher), Maddy Roch (So, Pitcher)
Outlook: As has become the norm for the Southington softball program, it will be another season of championship or bust. The Blue Knights suffered a rare playoff loss last year in the semifinals to Amity and will be looking to get back to their sixth title appearance in seven seasons.
Southington did lose a number of key contributors, including third baseman Natalie Wadolowski, pitcher Brenna Sarantides, Nicolette St. Amand and Emily Mankus to name a few. The Blue Knights also lost junior shortstop Janette Wadolowski, who has decided to concentrate on basketball, meaning head coach Davina Hernandez will have to fill holes in the circle and the left side of the diamond. But as has been the case for Southington and Hernandez, it will simply be a matter of retooling, not rebuilding.
Although these Blue Knights lost a considerable amount of talent, they retain a lot too. Kara Zazzaro figures to be the team’s ace, while seniors Maggie Scafariello, Katie Semmel, Michelle Woodruff and Amada Delorme, joined by junior Frankie Ferrante, form a dangerous core for opponents to contend with.
This should be a fun team to watch as the season progresses.
Head Coach: Steve Markie (18th season)
Last Year: 14-8, lost in second round of Class LL tournament
Key Losses: Alyssa Bellizzi (First Base), Haley Blais (Third Base), Kaitlyn Bernacki (Center Field)
Key Returnees: Kat Lagace (Sr, Pitcher), Kinsey Delbuono (Sr, Catcher), Cyan Gonzalez (So, Shortstop), Kacey Blais (Sr, Second Base), Lindsey Mangiafico (Sr, Outfield), Rachel Thureson (So, Infield)
Players to Watch For: Dani Pantano (Fr, Infield/Outfield/Pitcher)
Outlook: The Indians are out to continue the program’s upward trajectory. Newington went 14-8 last season, losing in the Class LL second round to title contending Southington. It was the second consecutive year the Indians were knocked out of the postseason in the second round and will be looking to make it further this time around.
Newington did lose a valuable trio in Alyssa Bellizzi (First Base), Haley Blais (Third Base), and Kaitlyn Bernacki (Center Field), but head coach Steve Markie brings back a roster filled with veteran experience.
“With the return of Kat Lagace in the circle and Delbuono behind the plate, as well as both middle infielders, we feel we can be very strong up the middle,” Markie said. “Other positions need to sort themselves out in the next week or so as we try and break in a few newcomers.”
Lagace will once again be the team’s ace and she will surely be tough for opposing hitters to deal with. Shortstop Cyan Gonzales and second baseman Kacey Blais are also expected to be major contributors, while freshman Dani Pantano could be a utility player worth keeping an eye on.
All in all, Newington is looking to be a contender in its division.
Head Coach: Scott Marcucio (1st season)
Last Year: 3-17, Missed Class M playoffs
Key Losses: Maddy Richardson
Expected Key Returnees: Kiya Broughton (Sr, Pitcher), Aminah Tsonga (Sr, Third Base), Alyssa Roy (So, Outfield), Kaylee LaMothe (So, Outfield)
Outlook: It was another rough season for the Plainville softball team in 2016, as it went just 3-17 and missed the playoffs once again. This season should be about the growth of the program.
The Blue Devils graduated six seniors, meaning a younger group will now get the chance to show what it can do, but, of course, that also means there will most likely be some bumps along the way. Plainville does bring back some players from last season, including pitcher Kiya Broughton, third baseman Aminah Tsonga and outfielders Alyssa Roy and Kaylee LaMothe. Broughton is the team’s best pitcher and perhaps overall player, and much of the burden will fall on her shoulders (or arm) to keep the team in games. The defense just has to play well behind her, something that was a constant issue for the Blue Devils last season.
Roy and LaMothe both earned substantial playing time as corner outfielders as freshmen in 2016, so how their games have developed will be crucial for this team.
Either way, Plainville can really only go up.
Head Coach: Paul Soucy (21st season)
Last Year: 6-14, missed Class S playoffs
Key Losses: Yarelis Luciano (Catcher/First Base), Tahlor Lytton (Infield/Outfield), Yarimar Gonzalez (Infield/Catcher), Nashaley Viera (Infield), Ashley Santiago (Pitcher/Infield)
Key Returnees: Ashley Rivera (Sr, Pitcher/Utility), Paola Barbosa (Jr, Infield), Teresa Lopez (Jr, Catcher), Leina Rivera (Jr, Infield), Tiana Afanador (Jr, Infield/Catcher), Joannet Mendez (So, Infield)
Outlook: Goodwin Tech saw its win total go from just four in 2015 to six in 2016 and the team is looking for even better things this upcoming season.
The Gladiators did lose five key seniors that, although the scoreboard struggled to show it, brought plenty of experience, game-in and game-out. Despite the losses, head coach Paul Soucy does have a good, young core of players, led by pitcher Ashley Rivera and infielder Paola Barbosa. Still, he knows Goodwin Tech’s relative inexperience could lead to some growing pains as the season plays out.
One thing he does like is his team’s speed, which should only help, especially on the defensive side and on the base paths.
As for how the Gladiators will fare in 2017, Soucy believes Capital Prep will be the team to chase.
“They have perhaps the best pitcher in the league,” he said.
Look for Goodwin Tech to compete for a .500 season or better this year.
Head Coach: Michael Jessie
Last Year: 7-12, missed Class S playoffs
Key Losses: Lyna Dieppa (Shortstop), Alex Delgado (Outfield/First Base)
Expected Key Returnees: Katherine Mason (Sr, Catcher), Maribel Rodriguez (Sr, Centerfield), Lianna Giles (Jr, Shortstop/Second Base)
Outlook: The Ravens made huge strides in just the program’s third season at the varsity level. After winning just three games in 2015, Innovation finished 2016 with seven, just one win shy of making the Class S tournament.
Now it is about whether the Ravens will be able to continue that trajectory or level off. Head coach Michael Jessie did lose two valuable players in shortstop Lyna Dieppa and outfielder/infielder Alex Delgado, but for the most part brings back a roster that has been able to gain plenty of experience over the past two years. And with Dieppa and Delgado moving on, Katherine Mason, Maribel Rodriguez and Lianna Giles figure to lead the Ravens in 2017.
Should Innovation be able to continue its growth and make the postseason, it will be quite the accomplishment.