TORRINGTON >> Last season the Torrington Red Raiders ran through the season winning its first 23 games on their way to an NVL regular season title and an NVL Tournament title, securing the No. 1 seed in the Class L Tournament before falling to the No. 16 seeded Bunnell Bulldogs, 2-1, in the second round.
Throughout the season the Red Raiders walked all over opponents, but relied heavily on All-State pitcher Sydney Matzko to help them win games, averaging 8.6 runs-per-game and then struggled to score in their last five games, scoring more than three runs in one game, before getting eliminated.
This season the Red Raiders are again undefeated at 13-0, and again have gotten outstanding pitching from Matzko but there is a difference with this Red Raiders squad, that is currently ranked No. 2 in the GameTimeCT media poll, they are hitting consistently and often, averaging 12.2 runs-per-game and it’s not just the top hitters who are doing the damage.
“There is no difference, between someone who bats second and someone who bats ninth, our whole team is made up of power hitters and people who know how to get the job done, when it’s needed,” said Torrington junior Brittany Anderson who leads the team with seven home runs to go along with 15 RBI. “If the number nine batter goes up I know I can rely on her to get on base, if the number two batter goes up I can rely on her to get on base, number five batter same thing. I can rely on anyone on my team to get the job done.”
All the way through the Red Raiders lineup each one of them can make something happen at any given time.
At the top of the order, senior Nikki Jamieson leads off; making a habit for getting on base and Anderson follows her in the two spot.
“I used to try and hit home runs and stuff, but I know, I realized as long as I get on base its fine,“ Jamieson said.
In the middle, junior Marissa Morris has hit two home runs and has 12 RBI, in the three spot, Matzko, batting cleanup has hit three home runs and has driven home 15 RBI.
“This year I think we’re more offensively aggressive we have a solid defense and a really great offense and we’re just going keep trucking along,” Morris added.
Sam Pelow, a senior, who bats fifth, has kicked in nine RBI, while freshman Alexis Tyrrell has hit one home run and 14 RBI.
“I love when they walk Sydney and the next two batters come up huge base hits and she said to them its ok they can walk me because guess what the girls behind me are hitting,” Red Raiders head coach Maryann Musselman said.
The bottom third of the lineup Sara Heath, three home runs and six RBI, Alexa Potter, one home run and 15 RBI and Brittany Young, seven RBI have been as successful as the top of the order.
“She (Heath) played defensively but she didn’t hit, that’s one of the girls I talked about that I am so proud of,” Musselman said. “She worked hard this offseason she is hitting the seams off the ball.”
“Yeah last year we had more of a passive offense, this year is pretty strong,” Potter said. “Our batting lineup isn’t so much as the better hitters bat first and the weaker hitters bat last.”
Last season’s disappointing finish with the bats was something that the Red Raiders vowed to become better at, considering they returned all but one starter.
“We knew we had to put up runs, you can tweak out some things, but you got to be able to hit the ball, you can’t hide hitters anymore, we worked on a lot of different drills in the offseason,” Musselman said. “That was our number one goal.”
The players knew it too.
“We left with the mentality that if we wanted to go further in States and be better overall ball players,” Potter said. “We had to work twice as hard as we did last year.”
They also knew that if they are going to advance further in the State Tournament and ultimately win a State Championship they would have to become more than just 15 players who show up and practice and play games.
“We get along so much better this year, we all cheer each other on and get each other going and it’s just a better environment to be around,” Jamieson said. “Last year when someone would strikeout, we would just go back to the bench and no one would get them going, but this year it’s like when you strikeout or do something bad, everyone cheers each other up and we keep the momentum up.”
It took some time but the Red Raiders have seemed to make that next step.
“From last year to this year, it’s that other facet of understanding what it takes to be a championship team, I know we have that this year,” Musselman said. “A quarter of the way into this season the light switch went on and there was a shift among our players, visibly a shift, that they have become solid together they have become teammates and they understand what the other piece of being a teammate is. I think that is really hard to get any kids to understand that and it’s difficult for girls to mesh and be like that.”
The Red Raiders have six more games this season before they begin their quest at repeating as NVL Tournament Champions and though they have their naysayers, they only care about what they know and what they can control.
We want to be true to ourselves, there are always going to be naysayers that are just the way people are,” Musselman said. “We want to stay positive and keep that positive energy up and want to look at everything in the positive light because that only makes all the energy much better; you don’t want to get dragged down in that other stuff.”