A year older and wiser, the Mattituck High School softball team has virtually its entire squad back from a 5-15 season.
“They took their lumps last year,” said Rick Hinrichs, who takes over as coach from Kelly Pickering.
This year, the Tuckers just might return the favor to Suffolk County League VIII opponents.
“We have a good, young group of kids who have a year of varsity under their belt,” Hinrichs said, adding that his team’s strengths will be pitching, catching and defense. “We’re going to be very tight on defense.
“There’s a lot of competition and they’re pushing each other. It’s great.”
Hinrichs has several players who could make a difference.
Start with sophomore right-hander Sara Perkins, who was an all-league selection as a freshman. “She has a full year of varsity under her belt,” Hinrichs said. “She’s turning into a pitcher, not a thrower.”
Another sophomore, Alex Chowbay, a transfer from Orlando, Fla., will play either center field or shortstop. “She’s a player, a really good hitter and a fine defensive player,” Hinrichs said.
He already has a shortstop in his daughter, junior Jackie Hinrichs, an all-league performer last year.
Junior first baseman Meagan Conklin is expected to be a vital presence in the middle of the order and junior Kaitlin Perino, is looking solid at third base, Hinrichs said.
One player who might not have a permanent position is Jessica Boomer, who can pitch, catch and play the outfield. “She’s a super sub,” Hinrichs said. “She can play everywhere. She’s a valuable player for us.”
Other candidates include outfielder Lilly McCullough and two sophomore catchers, Courtney Ficner and Brittany Tumulty.
Hinrichs said he wants to stress better base running and proper cut-off throws from the outfield, “hitting people in the proper position.”
And hitting as well. “I want them to put the ball in play,” he said. “That’s something that we’ve been stressing — situation hitting.”
After coaching baseball at the varsity, junior varsity and junior high levels, Hinrichs is coaching softball at the scholastic level for the first time. He has coached youth and little league softball.
“It is different,” he said. “What I have to get used to is the bunting. It’s a lot more strategic softball, especially when they utilize bunting a little more.”
Hinrichs will be helped by assistant coach Rich Perkins, the father of Sara Perkins. “He’s a tremendous asset,” he said. “He lives and breathes softball.”
Hinrichs, Perkins and the rest of the Mattituck team know that life will change for pitchers when the season begins against Center Moriches at home on March 29. The distance between the mound has been increased from 40 to 43 feet to meet rules as mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“It’s going to give the hitter a little more advantage,” Hinrichs said.
Southold/Greenport Clippers Coach Cindy Sepenoski added that the new rule will protect the pitcher when the ball is hit back to the mound quickly. “I’ve seen some brutal plays,” she said. “It’s in the best interest of the pitchers and players.”
After going 0-19 last season, Sepenoski is optimistic her team will improve. “It’s early,” she said. “I want to develop a winning attitude. At the end of the season, we’ll see where we stand.”
Sepenoski was heartened by the fact that 43 players tried out. She kept 18 players, with many players joining the JV. “All around we have looked great,” she said of the preseason. “Every year we get more and more girls playing in the off-season.”
Fifteen freshmen tried out of the team. “There are some who might come up at mid-season,” Sepenoski said. “The JV coach [Lori Kreamer] will tell.”
Southold/Greenport finished last season with 10 players. “We struggled last year with the numbers and with commitment,” Sepenoski said.
One of the Clippers’ strengths is team speed.
Two juniors — third baseman Alexis Reed and catcher Erin Creedon, who played in the Center Moriches summer league — are among the Clippers’ keys.
Sepenoski will fill in the holes with several versatile players. For example, sophomore Nicole Busso, who has speed, can play first base or the outfield, and senior Lauren Salmiery also can handle several roles.
Junior Emily King and sophomore Kim Bracken are battling for the second base job. The pitchers include senior left-hander Danielle Alpi and Heather Gadomski, whose speed will allow her to play multiple positions.
Seniors Callie Bubb is the shortstop and Donna Angevine is one of three potential first basemen.