Titans poised to contend again
The Toll Gate softball team had another successful season last year, and with a team this year that looks very similar to that one, the Titans are hoping the results are similar as well.
Toll Gate was one of the final four teams remaining in the Division I playoffs before losing to eventual third-place finisher Bay View, and nearly every key contributor from that team is back in the fold. Throw in a few new faces, and it’s a group planning on contending once again.
“We brought back a lot of girls,” said head coach Shana Willis. “We have a nice core returning. Hopefully the other girls will fill in the pieces for us.”
The Titans do have some shoes to fill thanks to graduation, as second-team All-State outfielder Jessie Brosnahan is gone along with second baseman Ingrid Freeman. But that’s where the roster turnover stops.
Senior Courtney Conklin heads the list of returners, as she’ll handle the catching duties after earning second-team All-Division honors last season. At first base, junior Jamie Hopgood is back after a third-team All-Division campaign. Senior shortstop Jenna Beauchamp will likely hit at the top of the lineup, and she was honorable mention All-Division last season.
“It’s a team that, coming into the season, we should be contending,” Willis said.
On the mound, Toll Gate will rely on the tandem of senior Arizona Hunt-Kirkland and junior Courtney Marsh, both of whom saw a heavy pitching workload last season.
With two capable pitchers on the roster, the Titans have a luxury that many other teams do not. Sophomore Taylor Payton and freshman Courtney Iadevaia can also pitch, if necessary.
“They both do something a little different,” Willis said of Hunt-Kirkland and Marsh. “They have different motions, the ball comes off a little differently. It gives it a nice change to the batters, if needed.”
Marsh will play the outfield when she’s not on the mound, while Hunt-Kirkland will be the regular second baseman.
Rounding out the infield, junior Karley Mallette is slotted in to play third base, but is currently sidelined with an injury. Taking her place in the meantime will be Payton.
At second base, when Hunt- Kirkland is pitching, either junior Breana Coleman or Iadevaia will get the call.
“We do have a couple of new kids that need to learn the ropes,” Willis said.
Joining Marsh in the outfield will be a combination of players, starting with senior Kelly Berard. Toll Gate will also use juniors Laura Salisbury, Katherine Niles and Delaney Dilibero and sophomore Kate Eminger.
Willis is counting on somebody to emerge from that group and solidify the position.
“If we see that progression throughout the year, I think we’re going to have a very successful season,” Willis said.
Toll Gate’s main goal every season has been to make the playoffs, and it’s no different this year. Once in the postseason, the Titans have caught fire the last few years, finishing fourth last year and third the year before.
That’s the emphasis again. Willis wants her players peaking at the right time.
“Our team goal for the year is to obviously make the playoffs and to go .500,” she said. “We want to progress as the year goes on.”
And with the landscape in Division I likely more wide open this year than it has been in the past two years, when Lincoln didn’t lose a game and won the state title both years, the Titans are hoping to make their mark.
“The teams have all been improving over the last few years,” Willis said. “I don’t think there’s going to be too many dominant teams. I think everyone is going to be competitive.”
Toll Gate is scheduled to open the season today against Coventry at Winslow Park at 3:30 p.m. On Friday, the Titans will have their first road game when they travel to Cumberland for a 3:45 p.m. start.