MADISON – With Hand replacing a quartet of four-year players and Mercy starting a freshman pitcher, there were a lot of new faces on the softball field Friday afternoon.
But it was a couple of the old faces in senior shortstop Hollis Wivell and pitcher Abby Geshwind that made the difference as the Tigers beat Mercy, 9-2.
Hand improved to an early 2-1 mark after the first week of play.
“We had no idea what to expect,” said Wivell, who had a pair of triples in the first two innings. “We knew we had a lot of freshmen with a lot of potential and some starters, even though we lost four players who started for all four years of their career.”
Hand lost three starters up the middle in second baseman Sam Pavano, shortstop Ali Buller and centerfielder Maddie Yaggi. Rightfielder Abby Fedus also graduated. All of them played four years for the Tigers, including last year’s edition that finished the regular season with a 12-8 mark.
“We’ve hit the ball like this against both West Haven (a 9-0 win) and Amity (a 7-4 loss),” Hand coach Mike Niekrash said. “We had 14 hits and left 12 runners on base against Amity. So the hitting is there.”
It’s the defense that the Tigers are trying to figure out.
“It’s a work in progress,” Niekrash said. “We’re trying people out in different spots and we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
As for Mercy, inexperience starts on the mound with freshman righthander Natalie Scotto. She’s allowed nine runs in both of her first two starts, including against defending Class LL champ Cheshire, 9-1, on Monday.
“She’s new,” Mercy coach Jenn Piazza said. “Our catcher (Michelle Thielgard) is working with her every day trying to get her to hit spots.”
In addition to Thielgard, Mercy’s other captains are shortstop Danielle Lajoie, who moved over from second base where she played last season, and centerfielder Blake Braman.
A year ago, Mercy finished the regular season with a 9-11 record, but upset East Haven and RHAM in the state tournament before falling to eventual Class L champion Fitch.
“All we need is eight wins to get to the states,” Piazza said. “We’re going to work the young kids every day to get them better. We want to get to the postseason and upset some people.”
On Friday afternoon, Hand got to Scotto early and often. Wivell lined her first triple of the day to rightcenter and scored on a Lily Geshwind single in to make it 1-0 in the first inning.
In the second, Christina Coric singled in a run and then Wivell belted a triple the other way to left-center field for two more runs to make it 4-0. Wivell then scored on another single by Lily Geshwind to make it 5-0.
“We’re hitting the ball really well,” Wivell said. “We worked in the winter with a hitting coach on seeing the ball up.”
Mercy closed the gap to 5-1 in the third when Braman scored on a wild pitch.
Coric scored in the fourth to make it 6-1, before Hand added three more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on run-scoring hits by Corci, Abby Geshwind and Caroline O’Connor.
Braman closed out the scoring in the seventh inning when she hammered a triple to right. She initially stopped at third base, but scored when the relay throw was late.
Abby Geshwind had 10 strikeouts to get the win for Hand.