Replacing nine seniors from last season’s roster is the biggest obstacle Old Colony softball faces heading into the 2018 season, especially when one was Mayflower Athletic Conference All-Star second baseman Savannah Lopes, along with the Cougars’ starting catcher Amanda Clark.
But the Cougars still have their foundation with pitcher Emily Littles and shortstop Mikayla Murray back for their senior season.
“We’ve built the program around them for a few years,” Old Colony softball coach Brandon Mendez said. “They’re phenomenal kids.”
Littles dominated the Mayflower Athletic Conference in 2017, striking out 140 over 84-1/3 innings, posting a 3.24 ERA and a 9-5 record. She also hit .462 and was the Cougars’ other Mayflower All-Star.
Murray hit .348 with a .577 on-base percentage out of the leadoff slot with three doubles. Her role will change a bit this year, moving down to the three-hole as the offense’s center piece.
“She has a little more power than she has in past years, she actually hit a leadoff home run last year,” Mendez said. “Last year, she was more an on-base machine, she was always on. But I also got a little speed coming up that I’m going to put at the top of the order with centerfielder Katherine Kirby. Probably one of the quickest athletes in the school.”
Kirby hit ninth last season with a .386 average and .471 on-base percentage as a freshman. With a full year of varsity play under her belt, her bat, coupled with her speed, should play well leading-off.
The Cougars also have Hannah L’Heureux back, arguably the team’s best hitter in 2017 as a sophomore. Old Colony’s first baseman led the team with a .474 average and was second in RBI to Lopes (24) with 21. L’Heureux was also tied with Lopes with a team-best two home runs and was tied for second with Kirby in doubles (5).
“She probably has one of the best swings I’ve ever seen at this level,” Mendez said. “She’s going to be the cleanup hitter and we’re looking for big things from her again this year.”
So the Cougars have Littles, Murray, L’Heureux and Kirby back, but that still leaves several holes to fill from the 2017 graduating class.
The first vacancy that jumps out is filling Lopes’ spot at second base – some big shoes to fill. Mendez decided to go young at the position after what he saw from freshman Allyson Pompeo early in tryouts, though he’s not certain on her slot in the order yet.
There are also openings at the corner outfield positions. Mendez will fill those with sophomores Lauren Patnaude, who played both JV and varsity last year, and Jordyn Dexter.
These decisions have come with limited work on the Cougars’ actual field, with the weather forcing them indoors since the start of tryouts.
“It’s been tough,” Mendez said. “Part of the focus early in the season every year we say, ‘What kind of team are we and how are we going to attack this thing?’ We’re definitely going to be a little more offensive-minded from the get-go, knowing that Littles is going to be a solid in the circle. So we want to push the envelope on offense a little more.”
Mendez said the team has taken time to focus on at-bats, base running, bunting, and the things it will take to push the offense.
“When we get outside, we’re going to be a little more focused on defense,” said Mendez. “There’s only so many softy groundballs you can’t take. As far as fly balls, we were talking about going out to the parking lot and throwing them to the girls to see what they can do.”
Bulldogs baseball graduated two of its top players on the 2017 to the college ranks – Sam Henrie to Division II Southern New Hampshire and Will Hopkins to Division III Suffolk – leaving holes not only in the batting order, but atop the rotation as well.
This makes Mike Kennefick’s emergence as the team’s ace last season all the more important. As a junior, he struck out 45 over 54 innings, posting a 3.36 ERA and a 5-4 record for Old Rochester.
Old Rochester manager Steve Carvalho will need Kennefick and senior shortstop Jake Asiaf early if the Bulldogs are expected to be a serious contender in the South Coast Conference as usual.
High School Sports Update
By Nick Friar