The Toll Gate softball team went 10-8 last season and won two playoff games before bowing out to Cumberland in a close 4-3 loss. It was a heartbreaker, but the team that left Cumberland that day knew it would have another chance.
This is that chance.
The team that walked off the field is the same one that will take the field when the 2012 season begins next week. And that means the Titans are thinking big.
“Hopefully, we can just pick up where we left off last season,” said head coach Shana O’Connor. “Everyone who was on the field at the end of the season is back, so we’re definitely at a good starting point.”
Several of Toll Gate’s seniors have been starting for several years, and last season marked their breakout in terms of team success. The Titans had gone 7-9 and 8-10 in the two years prior.
Now, with that success under their belts, the Titans are aiming higher.
“They definitely want to go far,” O’Connor said. “We went 2-2 in the playoffs last year and we made a good run. This year, I think we can have another good run. I think we’re going to be solid all-around.”
The solid play starts behind the plate, where senior Pattie Turner returns for her fourth year as a starter. As a sophomore, Turner earned second-team All-State honors, and she was a first-team pick last year after hitting .517 with five home runs.
This year, she’s a captain for the second season in a row, and she’ll anchor the lineup as one of the top hitters in the state.
Turner’s fellow captain is her battery-mate Katie McCaughey, who also has a wealth of varsity experience. After getting some innings early in her career, McCaughey became the Titans’ No. 1 pitcher last season and helped set the stage for much of the team’s success. She’s also one of Toll Gate’s top hitters.
Three other seniors figure to play major roles, too. Kaylyn Dion emerged as a strong leadoff hitter last season and also solidified the shortstop position. She’ll be back this season.
Adrianna DiGiuseppe, who batted clean-up last year, is back in the fold and will hold down the starting job in center field. Tori Porter, who seized the starting first-base job last season, is also returning.
The rest of the lineup has experience, as well. Sophomore Courtney Conklin returns as the starter at third base, junior Molly Turner is back in left field and junior Jessica Brosnahan is back in right field. Brosnahan will also be the Titans’ No. 2 pitcher.
At second base, the Titans have juniors Ingrid Freeman and Meg McNulty battling for the starting spot. Several other players may be in the mix for playing time at various spots as well, and could play key roles off the bench.
In all, though, the Titans pretty much know what they have.
Now it’s about executing.
“We need to score runs and we need to cut down on our errors,” O’Connor said. “I think the girls have grown maturity-wise and ability-wise. In our scrimmages, we’ve had very few walks, very few errors. Hitting has taken a little bit longer to come around, but that’s always been one of our strong points, and as long as we keep working, I think we’ll be fine.”
And pretty soon, the Titans will be chasing their lofty goals. The first one is to win the sub-division, which would guarantee a bye to the double-elimination portion of the state tournament.
Beyond that, the Titans will just see where their talent and experience can take them.
“As long as we stay strong and do the right things, we’ll be in good shape,” O’Connor said. “I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Toll Gate opens its season on Monday when it hosts Cranston West at the Winslow Park Fields at 3:30 p.m.