Before this season began, Arianna Pustari, a three-year starter at pitcher, informed North Haven softball coach Sally Maher that she could no longer play due to a back injury. Then on April 21, another senior, captain Brianne Melillo, the team’s starting center fielder, broke her left wrist and is expected to miss six weeks.
“It’s a big loss,” Maher said. “We’re at the East Haven game (on April 28) and I am looking down the line at the buckets, and we have Bri Melillo sitting on one and Arianna Pustari on the other one, and we still end up winning the game. These are kids who have started since they were freshman and they can’t start right now.”
Despite those injuries, the Indians are still very much in the hunt for the Southern Connecticut Conference Oronoque Division title and the automatic berth in the league tournament that comes with it.
North Haven has won all six of its divisional games so far and controls its own destiny for the division crown. The Indians (6-7) have division games remaining against Branford (Wednesday) and East Haven (May 14).
“It’s a pretty good feeling, but we know we’re not in the clear yet,” said Melillo, who still attends every game. “We’re not getting too excited, but we know we’re in good position.”
Junior Haley Arnaoutis has filled in admirably for Pustari. Arnaoutis was the program’s junior varsity pitcher last season.
“Haley’s been doing a great job,” Maher said. “She’s keeping us in every game. She has good control of her pitches. She’s getting ground outs and trusting her defense. I think she’s doing a good job. It’s big shoes to fill, but I think she’s been doing a nice job of filling them.”
Arnaoutis started one varsity game last season, a 5-4 win over SCC power Amity. This season got off to a rocky start, with the Indians losing four of its first five games. But as Arnaoutis has improved, so has North Haven.
“At first I was really intimidated,” Arnaoutis said. “But I think I’ve been doing a good job of stepping up; I get better every game. The first couple of games I was really rusty and by the fifth inning I was getting tired because I wasn’t really experienced. But going forward from that point, I really have built my stamina up.”
Pitch location has been an area where Arnaoutis has improved the most.
“Her movement has gotten a lot better,” North Haven senior catcher Nicole Dunlop said. “She’s been hitting her spots and just getting down on the hitters.”
To keep her pitcher relaxed, Dunlop offered Arnaoutis some sage advice.
“I just told her if you get down on yourself, just get back up,” Dunlop said. “And work as team because she has a great defense behind her.”
Junior shortstop Amanda Kenney, junior second baseman Mia Martinez and sophomore third baseman Rachel Giatrelis have also excelled for the Indians. Melillo’s spot has been filled by committee, Maher said.
If North Haven gets past Branford this week, it’s contest with East Haven should decide the division. The Easties have only lost to North Haven within the division.
“We don’t want to take anyone lightly,” Arnaoutis said. “We all really want to win the division.”