The Warwick Vets softball team’s streak of six consecutive winning seasons ended with a thud last year as the Hurricanes struggled to a 1-17 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The ’Canes would like to start some new streaks this year.
“I truly believe we should be a playoff team,” said head coach Paul Kennedy. “There are five teams in each sub-division and four make the playoffs. That means we have to put one team below us, and I really believe we can do that. And I think we’re capable of putting two teams below us. Our goal is the playoffs.”
To get back there, the ’Canes aren’t talking about giant steps forward – it’s more about steady improvement in every area. And the ’Canes aren’t starting with pitching, hitting or defense. The first step is effort.
“We’re really trying to consciously improve our effort,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, the execution wasn’t what it needed to be last year, but I’m not sure the effort was always there either. We need an improved effort from everybody, from the coaches to every player on the team. That’s the big emphasis. And so far, so good. I like what I’ve seen.”
That should set the stage for better softball. Mix in a solid group of returning players, and the ’Canes seem poised for a rebound.
Vets lost three seniors from last year’s team, including starting catcher Brittany Alejo, the team’s top hitter. Nearly everybody else is back, giving the ’Canes a foundation of experience to build on.
Junior Bethany Rhodes heads the list of returnees. As a sophomore, she took over the pitching duties, and since she was the team’s only pitcher, she was taking over all the duties. It was a tough task, and Rhodes had some struggles, but Kennedy expects good things this year. Rhodes will also have some help this season, with freshman pitcher Naomi Franzen joining the program.
“She got hit around at times and because of the situation, there was nothing we could do,” Kennedy said. “She just had to gut it out. Hopefully that made her stronger, and I think it did. She works hard and hopefully she has a good year for us.”
On the offensive side, the ’Canes have a solid nucleus of players with varsity time under their belts. Junior Amanda Graves had a strong season in the leadoff spot and at third base last year, and she’ll be back. Rhodes can handle the bat well, while seniors Courtney Buratczuk and Liz Bailey should be in line for good years as well. Buratczuk returns as a starter at first base, while Bailey – who started at shortstop last year – may move to catcher this season. Junior Sarah Farrell, a starter last year, will likely be the extra hitter again, and should be a key part of the lineup.
“We have small numbers overall, but we have quite a few girls who all saw a lot of time last year,” Kennedy said. “They know what to expect.”
Junior Sabrina Cain is penciled in to play second base, and she’s also in the mix at catcher. Freshman Gabby Korlacki is also in the second base mix.
At shortstop, Kennedy is planning on handing the reins to freshman Liz Iadevaia.
“It’s never easy to throw a freshman into the shortstop position, but I think that’s what we’re going to do,” Kennedy said. “And I think she can handle it.”
In the outfield, Vets has Franzen, junior Taylor Palermo and sophomore Chelsea Reid all ready to contribute. Sophomore Kelsey Houle is also in the mix for playing time at several spots.
“I don’t know yet how we’re going to hit,” Kennedy said. “That’s not a knock on the girls. We’ve just been spending a lot of time on defense. But I’d like to think we can do a little better with the bats this season.”
The goal in general is do a little better across the board. If that happens, the ’Canes could find themselves back where they want to be.
“If we can improve a little bit on offense and defense, that’s going to give us a good chance to win some games,” Kennedy said. “We’d love to see the numbers a little bit higher, but the girls we have are doing a really nice job. They’re working hard, and so far I like what I’m seeing.”
Vets will open the season on Monday with a road game against North Kingstown at 3:45 p.m.