For two years in a row, the Warwick Vets softball team has dipped well below the standard of excellence it set in the previous six.
Prior to winning three league games combined over the past two seasons, the ’Canes were above .500 every year from 2005-2010, and won a state championship in 2006.
Reprising that role of being a contender is the lone goal of the program now, and head coach Paul Kennedy is focused on making that happen.
Even though it’s only been two years, Vets is tired of being near the bottom of Division I
“I expect to make strides from last year as a team,” Kennedy said. “I expect to make the playoffs. I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
The ’Canes – although young in many positions – are veteran laden, as 10 players return from last year’s team that went 2-16 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Smithfield.
Vets graduated its top two hitters from a season ago in Liz Bailey and Courtney Buratczuk but has added three new freshmen to the fold and expects everyone else to take a step forward.
That should pave the way for improvement.
“It may take us a little while to pick up the slack offensively, but defensively, I think we’re going to be better,” Kennedy said. “Pitching, I think we’re going to be better.”
Kennedy put two freshmen in his starting lineup last season, and while there were some growing pains then, he’s hoping that it pays dividends now. Liz Iadevaia and Naomi Franzen, now sophomores, will make up two of the more important pieces on the team.
Iadevaia will likely return to her spot at shortstop and hit somewhere in the middle of the order. She hit third last year.
“Starting at shortstop, batting third, that’s tough as a freshman,” Kennedy said. “That’s a tough thing, but I’m already seeing some benefits now.”
Franzen pitched about one-third of the innings last season, and she’ll serve as one of the team’s pitchers this year as well. When she’s not pitching, she’ll anchor one of the outfield spots.
“I’m seeing some growth from her too,” Kennedy said.
Also handling the pitching duties will be senior Bethany Rhodes, who took about two-thirds of the time in the circle last year. Another year under her belt should make her even stronger, and she’ll play in the outfield when not pitching.
Rhodes headlines a group of four seniors. Sabrina Cain is back, and she’s in the mix to play catcher and second base, while Sarah Farrell will play in the outfield. Amanda Graves is back to play third base for a third year, and she’ll provide a solid presence on the left side of the infield.
“They know what’s expected of them,” Kennedy said. “They know what they’re going to see playing in the state’s toughest division. That helps us a little bit.”
The team also has three incoming freshmen who should see the field quite a bit. Emily Walason and Arietta Chevian are vying for the catcher’s spot with Cain, while Michelle Spremulli will likely play first base.
Chevian could also play some second, while Walason could see a little time at shortstop.
“I don’t want to put a freshman on varsity who’s not going to get considerable playing time,” Kennedy said. “I see all three of them – Emily, Michelle, Arietta – getting playing time.”
In center field, Kennedy will turn to junior Chelsea Reid, along with fellow junior Kelsey Houle. Junior Kiah Marcotte is competing for the right field job, while sophomore Gabby Korlacki is in the running for the second base spot.
All in all, the ’Canes have 13 players, and Kennedy is still working on figuring out exactly how they fit together.
“We still have a lot of things to figure out,” Kennedy said. “The weather has been miserable, but that’s no excuse. I know come Thursday I’ll have nine out there. It may not be the same the following week. We’ve got a lot of things to figure out early on. And hopefully we do – I don’t want to be messing with the lineup in May.”
Offensively, Rhodes has the highest average of any returning player, while Iadevaia and Graves were just behind her last year. They may very well hit 1-2-3, while Walason and Spremulli should be strong at the plate as well.
On Thursday, Vets will get a glimpse of what it has to offer. It will take on D-II Mt. Hope at 4 p.m. on the road in a non-league game. Then it’s right into league play, where the ’Canes will open their division slate against La Salle next Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. They’ll follow that up with another non-league game at Toll Gate on Friday.
The ’Canes hope it’s the beginning of a season where they wind up a lot closer to the top of the division than the bottom of it.
“Absolutely I look for improvement,” Kennedy said. “The girls know that losing is not acceptable. It never is. I will never use the word rebuilding. To me, it says it’s okay that we lose. And it never is.”