By Ellen Oliver
Early on Nashoba’s softball schedule every season is the Cheryl Jones Memorial Tournament in Hudson. Nashoba entered the tournament unbeaten after three games, including a 15-1 rout of North Middlesex on Patriots Day.
The first match of the April 18th tournament saw the Chieftains defeat Dracut 2-1, who couldn’t withstand the Chieftain’s knock-out pitching. “To come here and beat Dracut, a highly ranked team, was great for us,” said Nashoba Coach Steve Kendall. “We’re a happy to have played well against a good team.”
Nashoba’s star pitcher, junior Emily Sargent, was perfect for six and two-thirds innings. “She was dominant,” said Kendall. “We were aggressive going after pop-ups. That ball could have been caught, but these are the games to make those mistakes.”
In the afternoon, Nashoba and Hudson squared up, but Hudson beat Nashoba 3-0 on their way to capturing the tournament title. “If we’re going to lose one to Hudson, I’d prefer it to be this one,” said Kendall.
The tournament gave Nashoba a chance to preview Hudson, a team they know well and will face two more times in May. “I look at the games as a benchmark. There are things we need to do better. It’s good to play Hudson early,” said Kendall.
Sophomore Erin Cressman said the tournament was a lot of fun, even though they split the games. “We were in it the whole game [against Hudson],” she said. Cressman and Kendall each said if the team hadn’t had a few miscues, the outcome may have been different. “They are a good team, one of the best in the league, but we know we can beat them,” said Cressman.
The strong 4-1 start is part of the continuous improvement the softball team has made over the last few seasons, pushing back into playoff contention after missing them in 2010 and 2011. Last year, a commitment to improve through increased practice times resulted in a place on the brackets, although the Chieftains fell in the first round to Wachusett. This year they are working even harder for more progress.
The team began focusing early, taking advantage of gym time. “We did CrossFit and spent time in the gym doing more than just hitting. We’re in better shape and stronger than at the beginning of the season,” said Cressman. “I’m very competitive. I always want to win and it’s nice to be around girls who want to win.”
The real test will be once they size up the rest of the Mid-Wach B competition. “League games start soon, then we get into the real meat of the schedule,” said Kendall. “We have a chance to be really good if we keep improving. We don’t have many easy games, but it prepares us for the playoffs.“
Kendall added that the team was able to practice early outside thanks to the turf field and a great idea by varsity baseball Coach Chuck Schoolcraft to share the practice times. “Instead of each of us having the whole field for two hours every other day, we split the field and both got to go out every day for two hours,” said Kendall. “We could hit, practice fly balls and grounders. Being outside is better than being in the gym.”
When asked about strengths, Kendall praised his team’s all around game. “So far, our hitting has been good, very strong,” said Kendall, noting home runs from senior captain Eileen McGarry and Cressman. “We’re also playing really good defense. I don’t think we’ve made an error yet this season.”
The Chieftains are also aided by two assistant coaches this year. Ashley Pirez, who has been working with the catcher and calling pitches, and Frank Steffanides, a college and Massachusetts Hall of Fame softball coach. “Frank wanted to get back into coaching and was looking for somewhere to help out. We’re lucky to have him,” said Kendall.
Kendall said the girls have been organizing fundraisers and head to Kimball’s for ice cream and team bonding. “They’re all good kids and hard working. All the things you want in a team,” said the coach. “I’m optimistic we’ll do well this year.”