EAST HAVEN >> The East Haven softball team certainly hasn’t forgotten how last season ended.
The Easties advanced to the Class M state semifinals before a disappointing 7-0 loss to Granby dashed East Haven’s bid at a state championship.
But the Easties would rather focus on the present, and for good reason. East Haven returns seven players who helped lead the team to a 21-5 record, including a second straight appearance in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament semifinals.
The loss to Granby was mentioned briefly at the start of this preseason, but the Easties are only looking forward.
“We just don’t want to harp on it,” East Haven coach Ed Crisafi said. “We just talk about what could be this year. This could be another special season.”
Last season the Easties tied the 1985 team for the single-season school record for victories.
The return of senior captains Talia Loda (pitcher), Jenna Gaudioso (center field), McKenzie Miessau (catcher), Alyssa Apuzzo (second base) and Marissa Vittorio (right field) has expectations at an all-time high.
East Haven believes it can win the SCC championship, and its first state title since 1984.
“We are very determined to leave off where we ended last year and to better ourselves as a whole and individually in order to get there,” Gaudioso said.
Said Loda: “I think we have the ability to go a little bit further. Hopefully get to the championship game and win both (SCC and Class M) of them. We have a good group of girls and I think we have really good chemistry.”
The loss to Granby, although seldom discussed, has been a motivation factor for the Easties this spring.
“Sometimes, we look back at how much talent we really had and how we could’ve went further,” Gaudioso said. “But we didn’t and now we want to make that a goal this year: to utilize what we have.”
Crisafi believes this year’s edition will be better defensively but will miss power hitters Brianna Spadacenta and Miranda Baldassare and leadoff batter Amanda Jessey, all of whom graduated, but not before each recorded over 100 career hits.
“We hit,” Crisafi said. “I think we’re going to have a better team average than last year, but we miss the power.”
Pitching should be another strength. Loda went 13-3 with a 1.13 ERA last season, but has improved in almost every facet and now throws up to eight pitches.
“She’s inwardly confident,” Crisafi said. “I don’t want to say aloof, but just happy-go-lucky.”
Last season Loda split time with Ireland Miessau but Miessau has since transferred to Lauralton Hall. Loda is backed up by sophomores Laura Anderson and Kara Hanson, while freshman Brianna Ruggiero has shown promise.
“Deep down inside, I think she (Loda) is kind of happy that (Miessau) left because she knows she’ll be pitching every big game.”
One can say East Haven is in a bit of a renaissance. Although the Easties will attempt to qualify for the state tournament for the 12th straight season, the team advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1985. It was Crisafi’s inaugural appearance in the semifinals. He enters his 21st season with the team this year.
A strong middle school program, and the East Haven athletes’ participation in summer travel ball, are factors in the Easties’ resurgence. Crisafi, a teacher at Joseph Melillo Middle School in East Haven, also runs a softball camp in mid-August for students in fourth through eighth grade. The camp has grown from about 10 kids attending to around 40 last year.
“The (varsity players) come out and earn community service hours and help with the drill work (at the camp),” Crisafi said. “The younger girls see the older girls working the camp and it just mushrooms.”
Crisafi added that the middle school team has four pitchers and that most of the younger kids are playing summer ball now.
“It’s just carrying over,” Crisafi said. “I keep talking about retiring, but with Jeff (Crisafi’s son) helping me out as much as he does, I can see myself doing this for a long time. Softball is big now in East Haven.”