NEW BRITAIN — The Central Connecticut State softball team didn’t have enough plays break their way this past weekend, losing their first two games of the Northeast Conference Tournament and closing the book on 2023.
“We just didn’t get the big hit,” CCSU head coach Breanne Gleason explained. “We had some runners on and some situations where we could’ve the momentum. We just didn’t really end up getting that big hit that you need to win.”
Despite being shown the door earlier than the team may have hoped with losses to LIU and Saint Francis U. on Thursday and Friday, the team was still recognized for their efforts this season and shine a light on a team that’s bursting with potential for years to come.
The team received three major NEC awards as all as numerous all-conference selections. Unsurprisingly, senior Kaylee Whittaker was named the NEC Pitcher of the Year. Senior Meg Gorman was named the NEC Most Improved Player. The coaches were also honored as the NEC Coaching Staff of the Year after their turnaround from a season ago.
Whittaker dominated all season for the Blue Devils with a 20-9 regular season record and 2.56 ERA. She fanned 114 batters across 196.2 innings.
Gleason acknowledged how much she appreciates being named the top coaching staff in 2023 but also admitted that she can’t take all the credit for the team’s improvement from the ninth seed in 2022 to third this spring.
“It’s nice to be recognized by your peers and that they recognized the hard work that we put in,” Gleason began. “But in all reality it was the players that put the most work in. They decided that they were going to stay on board, stay loyal and put the work in to get back to the top of the conference. That’s really just a reflection of my players. I’m so grateful for the players that we have.”
With another strong showing from Whittaker over the weekend, Gleason also mentioned the efforts from some of her other all-conference standouts. She noted highlight reel plays from Meg Gorman in center field and Paige Stringer at third base.
Whittaker, Gorman and Stringer were each selected as members of the All-NEC First Team.
“[Gorman] in center field was one of the reasons we were able to win so many games,” Gleason explained. “She took a lot of doubles away. She took a lot of RBIs off the board for the other team, and that allows our pitcher to have confidence throwing the ball over the plate knowing there’s somebody like her out there to make those big-time plays in big situations.
“Paige is one of the best players in the conference. She’s always been able to hit and this year she played phenomenal defense. Her ability to come get the bunt was huge for us. She also took some base hits away in the 5-6 which makes Ava [Cino’s] life a little bit easier at shortstop.”
Ava Cino, Grace Lawton and Ashlyn Desaulniers were name to the NEC All-Rookie Team. Desaulniers was also tabbed All-NEC Second Team.
“Having players like that makes my life pretty easy and makes me really excited for next season,” said Gleason.
The Devils had a young core this season, meaning their stock should only go up from here. Gleason thinks the next time her team finds themselves in a position like this past weekend, they’ll be even more equipped to handle it.
“I just think it’s great that our young players got postseason experience, so that next time we’re in that situation we won’t be as nervous and we can get that big hit to win a championship,” Gleason began.
“I had a few players text me [Sunday] during the selection show that they want to see our name come up in that program sometime soon. So, I think they got a taste of it, and that’s a good sign for our future."
Along with a young group, CCSU will welcome back some veterans like Whittaker and Gorman for their fifth seasons in 2024.
“Having that presence and being comfortable dealing with the pressure and their leadership is going to be great,” Gleason noted. “We have 11 kids coming in next year, so they’re going to have a big group to lead, but I’m very confident in their ability to do that.”