Red Raiders Softball is in Good Hands
FITCHBURG -- One of the things that first-year Fitchburg softball coach Craig Antocci has preached to his girls ever since their first practice back in March was to come out of the batter’s box thinking two bases. Not just one. Two.
And that’s the mantra he reminded the Red Raiders of Wednesday afternoon entering the bottom of the seventh inning when FHS hosted North Middlesex Regional. The hard-hitting Patriots had an 8-5 lead, and it was -- as the old saying goes -- last ups for the Red and Gray.
And here’s another mantra that Antocci -- Ray Cosenza’s assistant coach for baseball the last three years -- has stood on: “It’s going to take 21 outs to kill us.”
“It had been a back and forth game,” he recalled on Thursday afternoon. “North Middlesex had jumped out 4-0 early, we battled back and made it 4-3. The girls didn’t care if we were up or down; they just didn’t give up, they just continued to play hard.”
Antocci noted that his shortstop, senior captain Emma Auger, had taken note of the sun breaking through the gloom over North Fitchburg on Wednesday afternoon: “There it is! There’s the sun, it’s our day,” he said she had exclaimed just before Lucia Arciprete dug in to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
Arciprete rapped a sharp double through the right hand side, and with a misplay by the NM right fielder, that gave her an extra base. Macey Halstead then grounded to second, plating Arciprete -- trading a run for an out. NM needed outs.
Antocci then had a brainstorm, sending Abrianna McCall up as a pinch hitter.
“I put her in because she’s worked really, really hard; this is her first year on varsity, and I just had a feeling she would put in a good at bat,” he said. “She had one swing that she held back on a dropped curve that (NM pitcher Maggie) Hackler tried to place.”
McCall worked a one-out walk on five pitches, before Soleil LeBlanc drove it to right-center. That put runners on second and third -- again, thinking double right out of the box -- with Alyesha Santos coming to bat.
Antocci noted that Santos has a swing that is difficult to teach, and that she had battled Hackler all day, fouling off a number of pitches in her first at bat of the afternoon.
And after NM brought the outfield in a few steps to keep LeBlanc from scoring on a Texas leaguer, Santos connected on Hackler’s right pitch.
She put it over the center fielder’s head, and it rolled to the fence.
“Santos is so fast,” Antocci said, “that by the time the center fielder got to the ball, she was already rounding second on her way to third, and as I saw the ball come into the cut-off, the cut-off was going to have to move her feet, and I thought, ‘We’re either going to win the game right now, or we’ll be even. I’m not going to take the chance, we’ll take the risk.’ And Santos beat the throw, she slid under the tag.
“She’s one of the fastest girls on our team, and she hit the ball so firmly that the outfielder didn’t have a chance to get a read on it. I don’t think (Santos) realized she was going to be the winning run. She hit the ball so firmly, and she got out of the box like a shot.”
He added that the mentality of thinking two bases automatically -- like Arciprete did, like LeBlanc did, like Santos did -- comes from his time under Cosenza.
“That’s something we always practiced with the boys, so I instilled that with the girls,” he said. “When you get out of the box, always take two bags. Never think you’re just going to get a single. Always think you’re going to get a double, or try to push it to a triple. We’re going to force the other team to stop us from running, and when you combine this with the attitude we’ve developed from scrimmaging Wachusett Regional and seeing Courtney Lanpher, Silver Lake Regional, Plymouth North -- some of these really good teams, they don’t ever let up, they have the pedal to the metal all the time.
“That rubbed off on our girls; we’re a really young team, but when given the opportunity, the girls got after it.”
Antocci added that he was impressed with the way North Middlesex got after it, too; the next day, NM went down to Clinton and beat the Gaels, 11-6.
“North Middlesex has some real talent, their top four hitters are really good. And they’re bringing up some youth. Janice Portlock is doing a good job, and they’re a really classy outfit,” he said.
* I cannot begin to describe how happy I am for new Leominster High football coach Devin Gates. Beyond thrilled for him. This is absolutely his time, and honestly, I feel that it’s overdue.
For those of you out there in the Plastics City complaining about a Fitchburg guy coaching Leominster, I have only this to say: Calm down. Devin Gates is going to work extremely hard to win your trust. He knows what he’s in for when it comes to scrutiny, and I have every faith in him that he’ll rise up to meet every expectation. LHS is in good hands.
And for those of you in Fitchburg screaming of Benedict Arnold: Calm down. The man lives in Leominster now, and he wants to improve his community. Cheer against him on Thanksgiving, of course ... but remember that he is one of you off the sidelines.
* Another person whom I feel is beyond ready to have a head coaching job? John Ginnity, St. Bernard’s Class of 1997. His basketball knowledge, after playing for Mark Pierce and assisting both Serge Debari at Assumpton and former Clark men’s hoops coach Paul Phillips, is so sky high and he would be a great asset for any team, whether at the high school level or college level, in this area.
* Happy to hear that St. Bernard’s football coach Tom Bingham and Nashoba Regional football coach Jamie Tucker, both of whom won their respective Super Bowls this past fall, will coach the North all-stars this June.
That game will be played on the new turf at Shrewsbury High.
* Great to hear that former St. Bernard’s and Fitchburg State ice hockey standout Kevin Lizotte is the new coach of the Littleton/Bromfield co-operative program. We got to see him when we covered Fitchburg/Monty Tech against the Tigers in Groton back in February.
He will replace longtime Littleton coach Howie Schneider, just one of the all-around good guys in the local puck scene.
* Special thanks to Lunenburg’s own Gordon Edes, formerly of this newspaper as well as The Boston Globe and ESPNBoston.com , as he posted a nifty picture on Twitter last week of himself, Leominster resident Jon Lister, Fitchburg native Ben Coakley, and Ayer’s Greg Rybarczyk, all posing -- with their World Series rings.
All four work for the Red Sox now.