Devils Softball Fights for a Playoff Spot
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the St. Bernard’s softball team (first time since 2012) and the Oakmont Regional baseball team (2013) clinch their first postseason berths in some time. It’s absolutely fantastic for those young women and men to experience the playoffs.
This week, the Leominster softball team can join those two after a four-year gap, should the Blue Devils win two out of their last three starting with Wednesday’s tilt against Blackstone Valley Tech over at the Leominster Lassie League Complex off Route 12.
It’s something that head coach — and Leominster High Hall of Famer — Lauren Hatfield believes can happen with this group, which only has two seniors in pitcher Liz Leger and catcher Tamara Landry and only had four total returning players this spring.
LHS, which last made the postseason in 2015, enters the final week of the regular season at 8-9 following Thursday’s 6-5 win over Westboro, the continuation of a rain-shortened game from a week prior. Hatfield noted that it was the first time since she’s been coaching at her alma mater that her teams, field hockey and softball, have hit 8 wins in a season.
“It is good to get this win,” Hatfield said Thursday afternoon. “It’s huge. (Getting into the postseason now) is extremely doable. We’re capable of beating all three of those teams that we’re going to see.”
Outside of the Beavers on Wednesday, Leominster will travel up to already-qualified Oakmont Regional on Thursday afternoon, and will host St. Peter-Marian Friday.
“SPM have been beating teams, but also losing to teams that we’ve beat,” Hatfield said. “It’s a very interesting season this year; everyone’s beating everybody. It’s a very even pool of teams.”
That being said, should the Blue Devils not qualify, Hatfield believes this will be a tremendous learning experience for her girls — now they’ll know just how to approach many of these games when 2020 rolls around.
“I only had four girls come back; there are a lot of juniors in this group,” she said. “It’s a different group, but it’s the best group I’ve coached here, softball-wise. It’s a different vibe, a different experience, a very coachable group of girls; they listen. And they’re enthusiastic, and they want to play hard and they want to win.
“I have high hopes for this team, and I firmly believe we’re going to make the tournament. Blackstone Valley’s going to be very tough; they haven’t lost yet. Oakmont’s playing very well right now; they are always tough, and so is St. Peter-Marian. It’s going to be a tough week, but it’s not something we can’t do.”
Let the week begin.
From the ICYMI Files: Last week the MIAA approved a new rule for baseball next spring where pitch counts will be implemented and enforced. It’s something that I feel will be for the good of the players themselves, at least on paper.
I keep a pitch count at every baseball game I cover, and I can say with absolute authority that I’ve seen some pitchers go far beyond the limits of what a teenaged arm and shoulder should be expected to throw, such as a high school senior throwing upward of 150 pitches in nearly eight innings in one afternoon. And on a cold, raw day where you don’t get warm no matter how many pitches you throw... yeah, no. This is something I’ve waited to see implemented for quite some time.
The pitch count rule, broken down: 1-25 pitches, 0 days rest; 26-40 pitches, 1 day rest; 41-55 pitches, 2 days rest; 56-70 pitches, 3 days rest; and 71-115 pitches, 4 days rest.
Sub-varsity games will have a 95-pitch limit. And just like in Little League, if you reach the pitch limit in the middle of a hitter’s plate appearance, you can finish it out.
And to throw a little bit of a monkey wrench into everything, those pitch limits can be broken up, too: for instance, a young man who throws 90 pitches on a Monday can rest for four days, and then throw 25 the following Saturday. After that, they can go back to throwing the normal amount two days later.
There will also be forms that each coach has to sign postgame, with the home team the final say. That will be fun to see the postgame debates, especially if the home team is a league rival and wants to hurt the visiting team’s chances of pitching the pitcher they want to throw in five or six days’ time. And with a league title on the line... well, they should start selling popcorn at games.
And don’t be so naive to think that there are some smart-hitting lineups out there who know how to really work a ball-strike count and get certain pitchers to throw between 30-40 pitches in a single inning. That can throw a coach’s plan for the week out of whack in a hurry.
What else will this do? It will also put pressure on coaches to actually develop dependable pitching beyond three or four youngsters — especially for deep in the season, when schedules get tighter due to all the rain-outs.
It will also make coaches juggle their staffs — 55 pitches here, 60 pitches there — and may also limit innings for certain pitchers. Any kid can throw a ball, of course, but when you’re looking for actual pitchers who can get the ball over for strikes and deliver outs late in the season and you have a playoff berth on the line, you don’t want to just throw any kid at 60-feet-6. You’d be rubbing a rabbit’s foot in no time, and praying to whichever deity you hold most dear.
This is why school districts need to fund — and keep funding — middle school sports, especially baseball. Varsity coaches need to go to the middle schools and teach pitching to their future charges, starting at seventh and eighth grade. There’s no reason why programs shouldn’t have upward of six or seven — and even more — dependable pitchers on their rosters at any given time.
And if you’re a high school coach who is doing this, fantastic. This isn’t directed at you.
One thing that this doesn’t cover? Outside activities, such as Babe Ruth or AAU programs. It’s not all-encompassing, and it should be. There are subvarsity players who will play for the high school and then go to a Babe Ruth or AAU game afterward. Don’t be so naive to think that there are unscrupulous — read: clueless — coaches out there who aren’t keeping track of what the player is doing at the high school level and will throw the kid out on the bump regardless because his team is all that matters.
Of course, parents need to step up their game, too. Parents should be monitoring their pitchers and making sure these other coaches outside of high school ball are sticking to the recommendations.
Again, this is wonderful on paper, in theory. It will be much better when there is 100 percent enforcement across the board to fully prevent Tommy John surgeries in the future.
Whoever the next athletic director at Fitchburg High School — and we should be finding out about who that is soon — will be, they will have to replace one coach for the 2019-20 school year.
Red Raider alumnus Dan Ortiz told this typist last Tuesday that he will not return to the sidelines as boys’ basketball coach, given a “difference of opinion” in the direction of the program. We always wish fellow Red Raiders luck, and we’ll be keeping our peepers open to see where he lands.
Ortiz, who had a successful stint with Nashoba Regional, was 4-16 in his only season at The Grutch.
Another basketball coaching change that we know of: North Middlesex Regional AD Cam Fisk said last Wednesday that he will not be on the sidelines of the Patriots’ boys’ basketball team this coming winter. Interviews happen this week up on Route 119.
Around the area
It’s been a while, so let’s catch up a bit:
First, and most importantly, we want to send a shout-out to the Fitchburg High girls’ tennis team. I’ve wanted to get up to FHS on several occasions to do a nice story on the girls, given that they were 11-1 entering the week. But blame that on the rain; you can’t practice tennis in the rain.
The Red Raiders’ lone loss came against Bromfield on April 12, and they have since ripped off nine consecutive victories. Sophomore Olivia Catalini — niece to the very famous Bob Catalini, of the late 1960′s St. Bernard’s Catalinis — is crushing it at No. 1 singles. She has only lost two sets all season entering last week, and has been able to hold opponents to minimal games won, if not winning by 6-0 scores.
It’s an amazing accomplishment at a school not known for tennis...
Hearing through my spies and informants that Leominster is going to a single, school-wide booster club for all of its sports, instead of separate entities. This will help support all sports, male and female, and will ensure that the girls’ sports get just as much as the boys. It has to go through the School Committee when it’s all said and done, and the hope here is that it gets finalized before the close of school, because, you know, fall sports need the additional funding...
Was great to see former Gardner field hockey coach Sally Johnson last Wednesday, and we had a nice conversation before her son Tim Caouette’s Oakmont baseball team took on North Middlesex. Always great to see some of the wonderful people who have enriched the lives of many student-athletes...
Got a good look at the still-in progress rebuild of Watkins Field in Gardner as well as the completed A1 Auto Field at the John E. Young Memorial Athletic Complex at North Middlesex Regional last week. Two superb synthetic fields for interscholastic athletics in those communities.
We know that Watkins won’t be ready until the fall — a photo we saw last Monday suggests the track has not been installed yet, and neither has the press box — but Young had a “soft” opening this past week. The first event under the lights will be this Wednesday, as NM boys’ lacrosse is slated to host Lunenburg.
If you’re keeping track at home, that will leave four of our local schools without turf. We know Fitchburg is looking into it for historic Crocker Field (and I can’t tell you just how much it pained me to write those words). Ayer Shirley tried to get it over the finish line at the ballot box last year. Monty Tech? That would be a larger undertaking, given the amount of communities involved who would have to help raise money...
Boylston’s Tahanto Regional High School’s athletic department was the winner of this year’s WPKZ/Scholastic Sports Zone AED giveaway last Monday at Worcester’s Flying Rhino...
As always, thanks for reading. Go Bruins.