Seniors Steady Young Eagles
Maya Mulholland attempts to bunt against Rocky Hill. Mulholland is one of two seniors on the field for the Eagles this season.
WHS softball came out on the losing end at Rocky Hill last Monday, but despite the loss there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Wethersfield.
“Our kids came to play tonight and I am proud of them. Our record may not show it but this group has so much heart,” said head coach Colleen Budaj, who has only two seniors this season, “They want to get better, they want to learn. In the next couple of years we’ll be a lot more competitive with the work we’re putting in now.”
Early on the Eagles looked like a completely different team than the one who lost to the same Terriers team by 17 runs in late-April.
Wethersfield jumped out to a 5-0 lead after the first inning and extended the lead to six headed to the third.
“We’re not the same team when we faced them back then. We changed our mental game, we changed our fielding. We made sure that we came to play today and I think that showed, especially in the first few innings,” said senior Maya Mulholland.
Rocky Hill reeled off the next nine runs, winning 9-6, but the early innings showed the promise and offered a glimpse at the future of softball in Wethersfield.
“I wish I could say that we could draw it up like that every time. When pieces are coming together and when people are healthy and we’re seeing more consistency,” added Budaj, “We always talk about not giving a good teams extra outs and in a couple of innings we gave them a couple of extra outs. Unfortunately that was the difference in the game, us giving up a couple of unearned runs.”
The beginning of the game was a thing of beauty for Budaj’s club. Leadoff hitting Zoe Kleeblatt, Mulholland, and Emma Zaleski all reached base before Erica Christie drove home Kleeblatt and Mulholland with a double. Zaleski then scored on a sacrifice fly.
“Since we’ve had such a rough start at the beginning of the season, we were going to come out as strong as we could,” said Zaleski, “We knew they would take us for granted and we have confidence now. It’s a whole new team.”
A triple by Jillian Gray drove home Christie, and Gray scored later in the inning to cap off the top of the inning.
Wethersfield continued to shine defensively as Olivia Morais made a highlight-reel, diving grab in the outfield and Christie, a freshman catcher, gunned down a steal attempt to end the inning.
“We talk about making the routine plays and every once in a while you get an exceptional one,” stated Budaj.
The Eagles extended the lead to six in the second when starting pitcher Kaitlyn Fischer connected on a base hit, sending home Kleeblatt.
Things began to unravel over the next two innings, as the home Terriers scored three in each frame. It wasn’t the ended that the team envisioned after the hot start, but it was a building block.
“You’d rather have a game like this. You don’t want to be on the end of a beat down and you don’t want to give a beat down. You want to be in competitive games like this and it was a great start,” stated Budaj.
Not only does Budaj only have two seniors, but she also only has a pair of juniors.
Mulholland and Zaleski share the captain’s duties with junior Maddy Johnson, who is helping groom a roster full of sophomores and freshmen.
“Last year the seniors really helped me make that transition and now I’m trying to do that for the younger players,” Johnson said of her expanded role, “We have a young team and the more they can get in the box and know that they’re going to hit it, and knowing that if the ball gets hit to them they are going to field it. Just confidence wise, it’s going to help us a lot next year.”
The youthful group has had some bright moments this season, including convincing victories over Bulkeley and Hartford Public, and they battled in each and every game until the end.
“I want to leave these games like the first few innings of today’s game. I want that excitement. I want that jumping up and down. I want us to have that confidence. I want the younger girls to be going into next season saying ‘look what we did last year and we can do it again’,” said Zaleski.
“I’m always trying to impart some confidence in the younger kids and remember to pick them up when we’re down. It’s hard sometimes when we’re out there, but we have to make sure we’re there as teammates and leading by example,” added Mullholland.
Next season the team will have a season of experience under their belt, but will be without two of their rocks.
“The seniors and Maddy have taken the younger kids under their wing and are working with them. They are the first kids to practice and the last kids to leave every day. They are putting in the work to help these kids for the future,” added Budaj, who will have to replace the Mulholland and Zaleski next spring, “I cannot image taking the field without those two. They have been the heart and soul of our team. Their presence, their maturity, the intangibles that they bring to the field, it’s hard to imagine competing without them.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin