The Cuthbertson softball team had all the right pieces last season. They finished first in the Rocky River conference with a 13-1 record and went on to make a deep run in the 2A state tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion West Stanly, capping off their season 20-5.
Of their top nine hitters, three batted .500 or better, seven batted .400 or better and none recorded averages lower than .327, leading to a team batting average of .437 – making them one of the best hitting teams in the state.
And though Cav coach Jessica Marchand is the reigning Rocky River Conference Coach of the Year and the dominating Cavalier squad is 73-30 over the last four seasons, things are already looking a lot different this year.
The Cavs will be hitting the field this season without outfielders Jessica Webber (.574 BA, 49 hits, 32 RBIs, 10 doubles, Eastern Illinois) and Paige Barnes (.490 BA, 29 hits, 17 RBIs, seven doubles) and catcher Kara Salvo (.461 BA, 45 RBIs, nine home runs, Western Carolina). Those losses are tough to overcome and don’t even include starting pitcher and leadoff hitter Mattie Nuccio – a University of Delaware commit – who led last year’s team with a .628 batting average and had 23 RBIs, 10 doubles and a 2.29 ERA with 97 strikeouts from the pitchers circle – who opted not to return to the field in order to run track.
They’re without some of the best talent ever to come through Cuthbertson’s softball program, but the Cavs’ newest senior class – made up of Kaylee Lamb, Melanie Smith, Katie Brock, Emily Parker and Erin Hodges – is confident that this year’s squad can be just as successful as last years, despite the big losses.
“We definitely lost some big bats last year and really talented fielders,” said Lamb, the Cavs returning second baseman (.423 BA, 12 RBIs). “But we’ve got a really strong freshman and sophomore group this season. We know that we’ve got to fill the shoes of those seniors that we did lose but we’ve got a lot of raw talent on this team.”
The Cavs will count on senior infielder Parker, who signed to play at Belmont Abbey in the fall to step in for those big hitters. Parker batted .438 with 16 RBIs, five doubles, three triples and a home run last season. But the senior hitter said she’s not worrying about stats or losses right now – she’s focused on leading the underclassmen to continue the Cavs’ winning tradition.
“As seniors, we know that it’s going to take the new kids stepping up to say, ‘OK, what position can I fill?’’’ she said. “We all know we lost big bats but we’ve got younger girls that can step up and take charge. We have to show them what that looks like. We’re going to have to even out the responsibilities to make up for what we lost.”
Sophomores Haylee Kobziak and Brittany Cooke return to the field after getting varsity experience last season as freshmen. Kobziak was a big surprise last year, batting .455 with 17 RBIs and three home runs while Cooke batted .389 and will likely improve on that as a sophomore with more playing time.
With only five seniors and one junior on this year’s team, Parker and Co. are hoping to create a bonding experience with the younger girls that will translate onto the field.
“Our bond isn’t as strong this year just yet,” she said. “But we’re going to get there. We’re working on building that as seniors because that’s our responsibility.”
To help their cause, the senior returners helped initiate a “Big Sister, Little Sister” campaign in order to bring both the JV and varsity teams closer together. The upperclassmen paired themselves with an underclassman to invest in them both on and off the
“It’s been really fun, helping them out with certain things and answering their questions,” Smith said. “If they have questions about a certain position or play, we can use our experience to help them out that way. I like being able to share what I’ve learned and it helps bring the softball program, as a whole, together.”
But even with their bonding initiatives and focus on bringing the team together, the biggest adjustment for the young Cav squad will come on the mound.
After losing all-state selection Nuccio, the Cavs welcome sophomore starting pitcher Christine Carver, who missed the 2013 softball season due to an ACL injury that occurred during basketball. Fully recovered, she decided not to return to the court this year in order to focus on softball. And although she’s young and without varsity experience, Parker is confident their new pitcher has what it takes to lead on the mound.
“I played against her in travel softball and she’s used to playing with older girls,” Parker said. “I’ve seen her in tough situations and seen the way that she’s reacted to pressure in games and she handles them well. She doesn’t get frazzled easily and she’s very mature.”
“It’s going to be a big difference because Mattie was a great player and we’ve played with her since the eighth grade,” Lamb added. “Having an underclassman as a pitcher doesn’t have an intimidating factor. That’s going to be a big difference because the pitcher, they set the tone for the game. That’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore or freshman to deal with, but I think Christine is up to the challenge.”
With Carver taking control of the pitching, strong hitters coming up from the senior class and a slew of talented underclassmen eager to become a part of the Cavalier softball tradition, 2014 could again be their year even with the odds against
“Last year, it was our friendship that made us so successful,” Parker said. “It sounds overused but it’s true. We got along so well and wanted what was best for each other and the team. Knowing that, it’s become one of our goals for this season. We’re ready for another big year.”