The Whitman-Hanson Regional High softball team is aiming to reach the .500 mark, but has some major shoes to fill.
Assembling the starting nine for this season’s Whitman-Hanson Regional High softball team will be much like a puzzle for fifth-year head coach Jenna Olem.
The Panthers are down four integral pieces from last spring’s team that went 11-10 and returned to the postseason, where it lost 8-0 to North Attleboro in the first round of the Division 1 South Sectional tournament. The quartet — which featured catcher Kristin Arthur, first baseman Kelly Burke, shortstop Emily Cook and center fielder Sarah Saccardo — were all senior captains and four-year varsity players.
Arthur, a three-year starter, hit .397, scored 19 times and collected 14 RBIs. Burke, a two-year starter, posted a .338/.400/.412 slash line and drove in 13 runs. Cook, a four-year starter, hit .452, knocked in 13 runs and crossed the plate a co-team-leading 24 times. Saccardo, also a four-year starter, scored 24 runs, hit at a .459 clip and produced eight RBIs.
“They kind of jumped in [and] set the tone to try and build this program,” Olem said.
Cook and Saccardo accounted for two of the three W-H Patriot League All-Star selections from last season. The other: current senior captain Colleen Hughes.
“Now we’ve got [Colleen Hughes] that’s trying to carry that on from the 2015 team that beat [Bridgewater-Raynham] (in the first round of the Division 1 South Sectional tournament), so this season is about trying to get Colleen’s season to go full circle, put the best players around her and do the best we can in our league,” Olem said.
Hughes, without a doubt, is going to be relied upon heavily this season, and with good reason. Last spring, she hit a team-high .486, belted a team-high four home runs and drove in a team-high 25 runs, while also serving as the Panthers’ ace, a capacity where she collected eight wins.
Junior Kayla Crawford will be Hughes’ battery mate as she makes the transition from second base to a fulltime catcher.
“She got a lot of action at the end of last season,” Olem said. “She’s very, very solid and confident back there.”
Freshman Abby Cleary is the likely candidate to slot into the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Hughes, who hurled 106 of the Panthers’ 133.2 frames played last season.
“[Colleen] threw a ton of innings last year and I think she was really fatigued by the end of it,” Olem said. “Hopefully Abby can step up and take some pressure off of [Colleen] so it’s not going to be all on her shoulders every day and we can kind of use her on the field.”
Senior captain Julia Donavan will also return for her third season in left field and classmate Hailey Norris will be back at third base for the third consecutive spring. Olem said the remaining five spots on the diamond (first base, second base, short stop, center field and right field) are up for grabs.
“It’s really how it plays out,” Olem said. “I’ve got a lot of competition. Hopefully we get some people who are going to push some people and get them a little bit better.”
Olem added that as much as she would like her team, which features eight new varsity players, to make the tournament, this season is going to be centered a great deal around development.
“We’re gonna see if we can get it to .500, squeeze out a couple of wins, beat the teams that we should, but it’s so unpredictable because we have so many spots to fill, but as long as we finish the season better than we start, that’s really all I care about,” Olem said.
The Panthers are scheduled to open their slate of games at home Wednesday, April 4 at 4 p.m. against Milton.
“It’s always a big thing to win on opening day and set the tone,” Olem explained. “I’m probably going to have a lot of young kids in my lineup and to not be nervous and just play like how they’ve been showing the last few weeks and hopefully we can go from there — build off of something.”