Red Raiders face task of rebuilding

  • Athol’s Haley Bigwood fields a grounder during the 2017 season. Bigwood will take over full time on the mound for the Red Raiders this season. Athol Daily News/Mike Phillips

  • The Athol Red Raiders softball team. Front row, left to right: Destiny Wrigley, Lauren Mack, Amber Mahony, Geca Baptista and Haley Bigwood. Back row, left to right: Kaitlin Baptista, Hannah Lajoie, Jenna St. Cyr, Celeste Torraco, Abby Roberts, Julia Carey, Haley Wrigley, Lexi Forte, Lindsey Leblanc and Sadey Lehtomaki. Athol Daily News/Adam Lewis

Sports Writer
Published: 4/10/2018 10:37:40 PM
Modified: 4/11/2018 11:14:57 AM

ATHOL — After finishing the 2017 season with a 14-6 record and reaching the quarterfinal round of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament, Athol High School varsity softball coach Sharon Chauvette knows the 2018 season will be different.

Her team graduated seven seniors, including All-Western Mass. pitcher and shortstop Jessica Soucie, along with fellow standouts Hope Parker, Brejahna Geise and Destiny Ricko. The Red Raiders add seven new players to the everyday lineup, including new faces throughout the infield with the exception of catcher Geca Baptista.

“It is what it is. I know this is our rebuilding year, but with some of the talent we have, I expect us to be competitive,” the third-year coach said. “Our goal is to get to 10 games and make tournament again.”

Last year’s squad was founded on the ability to hit tough pitching. The team held a .340 batting average, scored 8.13 runs per game and finished with 18 home runs.

This year, the team will shift to more of a defensive-minded approach, trying to win games behind their pitching without having to rely on the offense to bail them out of tough situations.

“We were a very strong hitting team last year,” said Chauvette. “I think we were one of the top (teams) in the league in hitting. This year might be a little bit of a struggle, so we’ll take it one game at a time.”

The team’s biggest asset is pitcher Haley Bigwood. The sophomore takes over full time on the mound after pitching 41⅔ innings last year. She won three games and struck out 54. Bigwood also provides a heavy bat in the middle of the lineup. She batted .420 last season with four home runs, 14 RBIs and 28 runs scored while maintaining a .605 slugging percentage.

“Definitely, we are relying a lot on Haley this year,” said Chauvette. “We are going to be riding Haley’s back this year.”

The Red Raiders welcome eighth-grader Lindsey Leblanc. Leblanc will provide insurance on the mound. Chauvette expects to go to Leblanc throughout the season to give her experience for the future.

“I’ve been talking to Haley about attitude and she’ll do fine,” said Chauvette.

The Red Raiders will have a new infield this season. Haley Wrigley takes over first base, while Lexi Forte starts at third base. Second base will see a combo of Kaitlin Baptista and Julia Carey, while shortstop is still to be determined.

Bigwood will play shortstop when she is not pitching. Jenna St. Cyr and Celeste Toracco will both get a chance to earn time in the infield.

Geca Baptista will catch again. She had a good freshman season on the varsity team last year, with six doubles, 12 RBIs, 12 runs and 10 walks to go along with a .306 batting average and .419 on-base percentage. Eighth-grader Sadey Lehtomaki joins the team as Leblanc’s personal catcher.

Senior Amber Mahony will play center field. After taking on a bench role last year, Destiny Wrigley will slide into left field and Hannah Lajoie will join the varsity in right field.

The top four in the batting order will go to Wrigley, Mahony, Geca Baptista and Bigwood. Forte will slide into the lineup in the fifth or sixth spot, but the rest will change as the season plays out. Chauvette did not commit to any one player hitting at a specific spot in the lineup outside of the top four.

“Like I said, it’s our rebuilding year,” said Chauvette. “So I’m willing to throw in whatever we can to see what’s going to work for us.”

The team begins its season Wednesday at Franklin County Tech. Its home opener is April 16 against Belchertown High School.

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