By KEN MORSE
Expectations are running high for the Plainville softball team as they enter the season with 10 veteran players. The Blue Devils appear ready to take the next step in their rebuilding process under third year head coach Scott Marcucio, led by seniors Shai-yonna Durham (outfield) and Kaylee Lamothe (shortstop).
“This should be the year that we take another step forward,” said Marcucio, who along with assistant coach Dylan Fusco have been putting the team though the paces.
“We have a good amount of girls who have been with the program the last two years. They know the routine, the structure and the culture we are trying to develop here. I told them they should have a higher expectation this year for themselves and each other as a team.”
Marcucio came in two years ago with over 25 years experience as a softball coach and went about the business of laying down a solid foundation focusing on honing the skills of his players. He took over a program that had a 7-33 mark in the two years prior to his arrival and made the state tournament just twice in the past eight seasons.
The growing pains were evident by last year’s 5-15 record, but there were also signs of progress. The Blue Devils won back-to-back games twice for the first time since 2015, including a pair of walk-off wins finishing just out of the post season for the fourth year in a row with a 6-14 ledger.
“We are certainly looking better than we did last year at this point,” said Marcucio. “Our throws are cleaner, our fielding is sharper and the hitting will come around once the weather warms up. It’s very important to take care of the little things in order to be successful. Getting bunts down, reading the signs, running the bases, these are all things we need to do well to give us the chance to be successful.”
Having experience in the circle and behind the plate only makes the transition, from being a team that is trying to put it all together into a team that will challenge for a spot in the post season, a little less of a bumpy ride.
Junior Mackenzie Alvarado and sophomore Kayla Wisz shared the duties in the circle and alternated at first base last season. Junior Makayla Caron developed into a tough as nails catcher behind the dish and showed the athletic ability to go back to the fence and haul in the occasional foul ball.
“Having our two pitchers and our catcher back certainly gives us a huge boost in our confidence level,” said Marcuccio. “Mackenzie and Kayla each developed another pitch to their arsenal and have shown the focus needed to become better pitchers. The better they are in the circle the better we are going to be as a team.”
Junior Kaycee Newberry held down the third base corner last season and not only made the routine plays but showed the propensity to handle the difficult plays as well, ending a few innings prematurely for opponents, taking away the big inning.
Junior Grace DiMinno worked the middle of the infield and provided a potent bat with her swing finding the gap more times than not.
Lamothe provided a sure handed glove in the hole at shortstop and a consistent bat that kept innings alive. Durham added speed on the bases that could easily turn routine singles into extra base hits.
Junior outfielders Makenzie Caron and Kaylie Hall had a flair for cutting the ball off in the gaps and sophomore outfielder Annie Roux had her share of inning igniting hits with her consistency at the plate.
“We have seven or eight freshman coming in so the girls are pushing each other for playing time,” said Marcucio. “There is nothing better than a little competition to make the team better in the long run. At this point every position is wide open.”
All the pieces are in place for the Blue Devils to make a serious run at the post season. For a team that finished a couple of hits shy and a few plays short of reaching the state tournament last year the time is now for Plainville to take the next step in their progress.
The Blue Devils will find out how far they have come and how far they still need to go when they kick off the season on Monday April 1 at home against Innovation of Hartford (15-5, Class S tournament last year). On Wednesday Plainville will host Bristol Eastern (14-4, Class LL) and will be at Bristol Central (9-11, Class L) on Friday with all games starting at 3:45.