REDDING — The last time the Masuk softball team took the field, it earned home the Class LL state championship and was ranked the top team in the state.
Nearly two years later Masuk remains at the top of the rankings, but with fresh faces to carry the weight of the expectations.
“This year really is so different, we only have two returning starters,” Masuk coach Leigh Barone said. “I am sure other teams are in the same boat, but there just isn’t that much knowledge about who lost who and which players are starting. It may take a while to figure everything out.”
No. 1 Masuk opened its season at Joel Barlow with a 14-1 mercy-rule victory in five innings on Saturday.
“We missed a whole season, so there are some girls that are juniors and sophomores that have never started with the varsity team,” Barone said. “I tell them to do their best, go out there and have fun, and I think they did that today. A lot of girls stepped up.”
Kathryn Gallant was the brightest star for Masuk on opening day, earning her first win on the mound and hitting her first home run at the plate.
Junior outfielder Kara Traggianese also launched her first home run, a two-run shot in the third inning. Shortstop Kaitlyn Welch went 2 for 3 to follow up her 2019 season in which she batted .471 as a sophomore.
“I was just excited to be out here again, everybody missed it last season,” Gallant said. “It was great to be out here with the team and start it off with a win.”
Over five innings, Gallant struck out 10 and allowed one run on two hits while going 1 for 3 with a two-run home run in the fourth inning.
“She has big shoes to fill. We lost (Sam Schiebe) in 2019 and (Maddy Procyk) last year” Barone said. “She has been working really hard in the offseason and I think everyone will know who she is soon if they don’t already.”
Gallant, who was a freshman on the 2019 championship Masuk squad is embracing her new role as team ace after waiting in the wings behind Schiebe and Procyk.
“I like to make the other girls before me proud,” Gallant said. “Hopefully I can continue the legacy and live up to expectations.”
Joel Barlow’s first hit was a fourth inning bunt single by 2020 Gatorade Softball Player of the Year and University of South Florida commit, Abby Ota.
Ota was 1 for 2, with many more hits expected after posting a .725 batting average in 2019 as a sophomore. She also stole a base in the opener, something she did 38 times that year.
“She is phenomenal to watch,” Joel Barlow coach Ron Ventura said. “In practice or games it doesn’t matter, she’s special and I expect her to have a phenomenal year.”
The season opener also marked Ventura’s first game as Barlow’s head coach.
“After everyone having a year off, being out here is surreal,” Ventrua said. “To be out there playing softball with the team and competing is a great feeling. Masuk a very solid team. They hit well, they pitch well and they are going to be the team to beat this year.”
The No. 1 team will look to keep the wins coming, starting with New Milford on Monday while Barlow will look for its first win as it travels to Brookfield.
“My girls were so excited for today and so was I,” Barone said. “It is so nice to be out here. It can be a little strange with to hand sanitizer and wiping down the balls, but we will do what we have to do to be out here.”
For Gallant and her surrounding core of players, early pressure has been drowned out by the joy of being back on the field.
“I think we were more excited than anything,” Gallant said. “Obviously, we have a big reputation to live up to, so there is some pressure there but everybody just loves being out here and we’re excited to be back.”