The Mattituck High School softball field was populated by a lot of new faces, a lot of young faces. And, in the case of at least one player, a muddied face.
That muddied face belonged to Caralee Stevens, the third baseman who toiled in an especially muddy patch along the base path leading to home plate. One could tell that Stevens had a workout just by glancing at her attire. After Friday’s practice, the junior looked as if she had completed football practice, with mud on her face, her shirt and her sweatpants.
“Yeah, it was a little muddy out today,” she said.
But Stevens wasn’t complaining and neither were her teammates, including first baseman Ashley Perkins, who was caked in mud herself.
Coach Kelly Pickering said it’s a good sign that her players aren’t afraid to hit the ground (in this case, hard, frozen ground on a bitterly cold afternoon) and get dirty. As young as the Tuckers are, work ethic is as important as ever for them.
Having lost nine of their 11 players from last year’s team to graduation, Mattituck is undergoing a major rebuilding job. Aside from two returning starters, pitcher Lisa Angell and center fielder Val Hommel, only two other Tuckers have ever worn a varsity uniform before. Stevens played a couple of varsity games last year and Rachel Voegel, a catcher, was pulled up for the playoffs.
Hommel is the team’s only senior. At the other end of the spectrum is Perkins, a seventh-grader, and Ashley Chew, an eighth-grade shortstop.
“We’re a younger team this year,” Voegel, a sophomore, said. “We’re just trying to build back up. A lot of seniors left last year, so it’s about rebuilding.”
Pickering said it helped knowing a year in advance that this youth movement was coming. Former junior varsity players must now adjust to the challenges of the varsity game.
“It’s a big jump from J.V. to varsity, so we’ll how it goes,” said Voegel.
Pickering said: “There’s a lot that’s got to go into this. It’s understanding plays, understanding the level of play that they’re now playing at and rising up to.”
Aside from Angell and Stevens, the team has five other juniors: second baseman Julia Orlando, outfielder Constantina Leodis, outfielder Alyssa Parks, infielder/outfielder Marisa Sannino and outfielder Alyssa Scartozzi. Two sophomores, Katerina Hatzinikolaou and Allie Becker, are vying for outfield positions.
Last year, with a senior-loaded team, Mattituck petitioned its way into the playoffs. The Tuckers lost to Center Moriches and Hampton Bays in the double-elimination Suffolk County Class B Tournament, finishing with a 6-13 record.
This time around, however, the approach is different.
“I think my expectations have to be a little bit different,” Pickering said. “Last year I came in knowing the potential that we had. I knew that we had a good shot at playoffs. I’m not going to say playoffs are out of reach for us, but we’re going to have to work even more than we did last year, and it’s getting the kids to realize the prize at the end when we get there.”
“We’re rebuilding, so it’s good for the program,” she continued. “We’ll start them young. They’ll get the experience, and by the time some of them are juniors and seniors we should be pretty strong, hopefully.”