The Saugerties High varsity softball team finished last season well below .500, hanging up their gloves after a 10-3 Class A quarterfinal loss to Rondout Valley in early June. But the its record was less an indictment of the team’s caliber and more a story of their inability to close out close games. This year, said head coach Melinda Glover, will be different.
“Most of our games were like that,” said the third-year coach. “We lost, I believe it was five games by one run, and we never lost a game by more than three runs.”
Though young athletes rarely need any extra motivation when they compete, Glover said the team is already using last year as a means to propel themselves forward this year.
“We’ve already spoken about it, and I think that’s what’s giving them their drive to want to get better,” she said. “We’ve just been missing one little thing, just losing all those games by one run. Nobody is going to be satisfied with just making it into the Sectionals this year.”
Glover’s tryouts were exactly that, with veterans expected to compete with newcomers for a spot on a short 11-player roster. Nothing is guaranteed, and the seven seniors and two juniors who return from last year’s team had to earn their way back in. Two junior newcomers, outfielder Magen Melville and utility player Martene Henriksen, were brought up from last year’s JV squad to fill out the roster.
“I kind of like the low numbers,” Glover said of her short roster. “I wish I had one more player I could bring up who was ready, but 11 is good. I know I’ll get consistency.”
Glover pegged junior Taylor Snyder as her starting pitcher or the season, with junior Jamie Whittam available to step in as well. Though it might seem unusual to not go with a pitching rotation of different starters, Glover said the game of softball lends itself well to sticking with a top gun.
“In softball, the mechanics of pitching underhand is more of a natural movement than you see in baseball,” she said. “It doesn’t put strain on your body like pitching overhand. Most teams do it this way because of the consistency.”
Like other pitchers in the league this season, Snyder will have to adapt to the most significant rule change in years: The mound for JV and varsity softball will be moved from 40 feet to 43 feet back from home plate.
“That’s not just going to be a big change for pitchers, but for everyone,” Glover said. “For pitchers, the ball can break a little more, but batters will get an extra second to adjust.”
Senior Donna Brocco, who along with utility player Brittany Banks and catcher Kate Thompson are the team’s captains, said she expects big things from the Sawyers this season.
“We haven’t made it past the first round of Sectionals in a while, and the team that we have this year could definitely accomplish that, if not more,” Brocco said.
Abbey Osborn, a senior who plays third base, agreed.
“I see the team going very far this year because we’re strong and have a bond like many teams don’t have,” she said. “We cover all the bases with great pitching, fielding, hitting, speed and communication. This team is ready to go. Softball is no joke to us and we can’t wait to start and end this season with a bang.”
The bond to which Osborn referred was an element Glover said was lacking in years past, with cliques and conflicts no longer an issue in the Sawyer camp.
“I feel good about our chemistry,” Glover said. “Most of us have been together for three years now, and we all gel. One of the girls said they felt like they’ve been waiting for this team for years.”
“This team is like a family,” she said. “We will win together, lose together and in the end of the day we all have learned valuable life lessons like dedication, commitment, hard work and the power of a team.”
Rounding out the Sawyer seniors on the roster are Brooke Littlefield (first base), Catie Dunham (outfield) and Briana Bivins (utility infielder). The seniors on the team are hoping to do what they can to help make their final year of high school softball a memorable one.
“As a senior, I would like to leave the Saugerties softball program knowing that I contributed everything that I could to my team and did my personal best,” Brocco said.
Players often look forward to playing other teams in the league based upon how well they performed against them the last time around. In Brocco’s case, she’s looking forward to taking on the team that sent the Sawyers home last season: Rondout Valley.
“We’ve had some tough losses against them in the past years and this is definitely the year where we have the best team to beat them with,” she said. “But we’re thankful to play any team and we look forward to every game.”
Another matchup that could prove intriguing will happen during the first game of the season, when the Sawyers travel to Marlboro for a tough battle against a league powerhouse.
“They did exceptionally well last year,” said Glover, noting that the team made it all the way to the New York State Class A quarterfinals. “They’re always a good team, and last year we only lost to them by one run.”
How well the Sawyers play against Marlboro and other teams during the season will depend upon many factors, including a sense of pride.
“I really enjoy knowing that we are playing because all of the student-athletes and the whole community rallied together to get our sports back,” said Brocco. “Because of the budget constraints, every student-athlete in Saugerties is thankful to go to practice and to play every game and we know that we are playing because we worked together, and I think that’s really amazing for a small town like Saugerties.”
The Sawyers host Kingston this Saturday, March 26, at Cantine Field. After they open against Marlboro on the road, Saugerties returns to Cantine for its regular season home opener on Thursday, April 7 against Red Hook.