LosingMikayla Murrayand Emily Littlesto graduation was enough of a hurdle for Old Colony softball to get over; but now they’ll also be without one of their top hitters, Kat Kirby, for the entire season.
The Cougars may have only lost three pieces, but each was a crucial part of their 2018 season. Kirby was a proven top-of the-order talent at the varsity level; Littles was the team’s ace and could hit, as Murray did, as well.
That means two things to Old Colony coach Brandon Mendez: more opportunities for newcomers and hammering home the little things.
Now the little things have been part of the Cougars’ approach so long as Mendez has been at the helm. Most of all, the Cougars tend to wreak havoc on the bases. Last year, they stole 86 bases as a team. Kirby led the group with 23, but Old Colony has Hannah L’Heureuxand Allyson Pompeoback, who stole 22 and 20 in 2018, respectively.
“I like to be aggressive on the bases,” Mendez said. “We scrimmaged Bourne (on Monday) and, in passing, I heard their coach say, ‘See how aggressive they are on the bases,’ which is something my girls have done a great job of already applying this season. Some of that’s experience – having HannahL’Heureux [and] Ally Pompeo back, I have some girls who played strong roles for me last year that were great on the bases. Tori Santoswill be in left field for me this year. Really did some good things for me.”
Mendez continued, “I play the games with courtesy runners and things like that. There are girls that their primary role this year might be as a courtesy runner to make things happen. It’s going to take some time with stuff; it’s going to take some situational stuff. But we definitely have to push some runs across the plate to support Abby (Orzechowski).”
Abby Orzechowskiis a new name for Old Colony fans, though one they should get used to. The freshman will take over the reins as the Cougars’ new ace of the staff, in place of the graduated Littles. Oddly enough, that’s who Mendez feels she resembles most.
“She reminds me a lot of Emily Littles from her freshman year,” he said. “She throws hard, has a few different pitches, and locates pretty well.”
Orzechowski isn’t the only freshman expected to contribute to Old Colony this season. Taylor Haskellhas caught Mendez’s attention early and is expected to hit second while patrolling the infield at shortstop.
“She eats, sleeps, and lives softball,” Mendez said. “She’s probably the most raw softball player I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here.”
Putting a freshman in the circle and another at short to start the season is certainly a risk for the Cougars, though it should almost certainly turn into a big play for the program’s future — especially when factoring in their projectability. With a schedule of mixed opponents, the bumps along the way could force Old Colony to be crisp in areas they may not have been in the past. That’s exactly why Mendez has made the fundamentals a point of emphasis to start the year.
“I kind of laughed on Monday before the scrimmage and said, ‘Hey, the things we’re going to be behind on – sense of urgency and awareness – the varsity game happens fast for a lot of you that are just stepping into this role,’” Mendez said. “They actually did a great job in a lot of the little things that I jumped on last week. That all happened against Bourne. I was really happy with that. It’s great to have a nice group of coachable girls that are doing what they’re asked to do, which always makes things easier. They should be able to show improvement over the season.”
This will not be the same Old Colony softball team from 2018. While the new youth and the lost pieces may be what shape the team early on, there are still important pieces returning.
Pompeo will likely lead off. The sophomore hit .339 with a .400 on-base percentage (OBP) and a .908 on-base plus slugging (OPS) in her freshman year, to go with her 20 steals. In addition to L’Heureux’s big bat (.500 average, 23 RBI, five home runs .549 OBP and 1.306 OPS), the Cougars return 2018 RBI leader Te-Lynn Layton(25), who also hit .426.
The Cougars’ open the regular season at home against South Shore Voc-Tech on April 3 at 3:30 pm.
High School Sports Update
By Nick Friar