The CCRI softball team isn’t accustomed to rebuilding years, and the Lady Knights aren’t prepared to use that term to describe their 2013 season outlook.
But CCRI is certainly still feeling things out. After a Florida road trip in which the team went 0-5, and a roster that doesn’t quite have the depth of the last few years, the Lady Knights know that whatever they accomplish this year won’t come easy.
They’ll be shooting for their eighth straight Region XXI title, yet will have to grow and find their roles as the season progresses in order to make that a reality or have any hopes of advancing past that point.
“It’s going to be a growing year,” CCRI head coach Liz Afonso said. “As long as I see improvement as the year goes on, I’ll be happy. Region-wise, I think we’ll hopefully be fine in the region. I think we’re probably the strongest team in the region.”
Last season, the Lady Knights advanced to the District 1 tournament and was playing for a spot in the national tournament, but lost two heartbreakers to end their season prematurely.
If they repeat that success this year, it will have to be with a lot of new faces. Gone are catcher Ashley Olson – one of the best players in program history – as she’s moved on to play at URI, and No. 1 pitcher Devin Azulay, who has finished her CCRI career as well.
Others, who Afonso was expecting back, aren’t with the team either. Standout shortstop Kate Carroll isn’t playing, and neither is Kayla Materese, who would have likely been the team’s No. 1 pitcher. Liz Bailey, another valuable piece, is also not in the mix this season.
In fact, there are only 13 women on the team at all.
“This year is going to have to be a scrappy team, to say the least,” Afonso said. “We’ve picked up couple good freshmen.”
CCRI also has some strong sophomores.
Former Cranston West star Isabel MarcAurele returns as a captain to play second base, and she’ll likely serve as the team’s clean-up hitter while providing the most consistent power threat in the lineup.
“She’s probably the most power we have on the team, hitting-wise,” Afonso said.
Another standout is sophomore catcher Kate Fowler, who is currently hitting second for the team. Fowler played third base last year, but has moved behind the plate to replace Olson.
So far, it’s been a success.
“She’s filling that role,” Afonso said. “She’s doing a good job back there. She’s got big shoes to fill.”
Warwick’s Mel Iadeluca is a captain and a key player as well, as she’ll be a member of the team’s pitching rotation and will play left field when not on the mound.
The other sophomores are Warwick’s Kyrie Craig, who will play right field, Katie Paddock, from Classical, who will help out in the rotation and play first base and Dara Patton from Cranston, who will pitch.
Then there are the seven freshmen. North Kingstown’s Sarah Deal will be a big asset, as she’ll help out on the mound, play the outfield or first base and hit third for the team. East Greenwich’s Alex Place will also step right in and contribute, as she’ll play center field and hit leadoff. Her speed will make her tough out every time up.
“Alex Place is our leadoff, and she’s super fast,” Afonso said. “I’m trying to get her to bunt from the left and use her speed. Every time she was on in Florida she stole second and stolen third. You can’t touch her.”
Freshman Macayla Paiva, from West Greenwich, will be one of the team’s best pitchers, while Chepachet’s Liz Coburn is serving as a freshman captain and holding down the third base duties.
Others include North Providence’s Brittany Smith, who can play third base, first base and outfield, Warwick’s Amber Boucher, who plays infield and could take over the shortstop position and outfielder Brittany Frey, also from Warwick.
It all adds up to a team with potential, but definite question marks. There isn’t a clear-cut top pitcher, as the team is sharing the duties among five girls at the moment, and the Florida road trip didn’t yield a ton of positives.
Of course, CCRI did go 0-6 on its road trip last year and then come within a few outs of qualifying for nationals.
“We came back 0-5, it’s a growing experience,” Afonso said. “Last year we came back 0-6 and we ended up being a contender. I take it with a grain of salt.”
The Lady Knights were hoping to take some steps in the right direction this past weekend, but its four games were all cancelled because of poor field conditions. As of now, CCRI hasn’t played at all on its home field.
But that should change this weekend, when they host Orange County Community College for a doubleheader on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m.
That will set off a busy stretch for the Lady Knights, including a trip to Ohio in April where they will play seven games in three days.
At that point, they should have a little better idea of what they’re capable of. In the meantime, they’ll work hard to get there.
“As far as personalities and willingness to work, this team is great,” Afonso said. “They’re awesome kids. They’re willing to give you 200 percent, whether they come up short or not.”