Grafton softball looks to advance past Round of 8
By CHRISTOPHER TREMBLAY, Staff Sports Writer
Last spring the Grafton softball team found itself to be competitive in each and every game. The Gators took home the Southern Worcester County League (SWCL) Championship and then found themselves as the number 12 seed entering the Division 2 State Tournament. Grafton would take out Dartmouth (5-4) and Burlington (3-2) before falling to Westfield (2-1) in the round of eight.
Historically the Grafton squad has found itself in the post-season on a regular basis and with a solid core of seniors returning to the diamond this spring second year Grafton Coach Kimberly Danish is very excited about the season.
“Everyone dreams of winning a State Championship and I believe that we have the personnel this year to do just that,” she said. “The girls are chomping at the bit to get back onto the field and start the season. It’ll be a grind, but we’re hoping that we’re the ones still standing at the end of the season and believe that we can be the ones.”
The Gators will once again find themselves playing a strong schedule, one that is very similar to last year’s and one that will test them throughout the year. In having the tougher schedule Danish believes that the girls will be battle tested and ready to go once the Tournament rolls around.
“The girls have the desire and work very hard, and I would love nothing more that to see them gel and develop into a successful team,” Danish said.
The squad’s success all begins with senior battery mates Taylor Coonan and Abby Dubois. Coonan, the team’s number one pitcher, transferred to Grafton last year and with Dubois behind the plate formed a formidable duo.
“Taylor is the first to practice and the last to leave,” the coach said. “I have been very fortunate to have been able to coach her.”
Dubois is a four year athlete who brings a positive energy to the game and in addition to her ability behind the plate she is also a fore at the plate. The senior catcher is a very significant part of the Gators offense.
Junior Natalie Grass will be Coonan’s back-up hurler and when not taking her turn in the circle she we find herself playing either centerfield or somewhere in the middle of the infield. According to Danish, she is very strong defensively and is able to get a great jump on the ball in the outfield.
Senior Ella Molinari, who found herself sitting on the bench last year due to a knee injury, is due to step back onto the field this year and should provide the team with a lift. Most likely she will see time in the shortstop position.
“I am very excited to have her back this year, she is an incredible athlete that provides leadership both on and off the field,” the coach said. “Last year, although hurt, she was at all the practices and games providing leadership and encouragement.”
Other seniors returning are outfielder Melissa Labbe and third baseman Jillian Carmichael. Labbe is a hustler with super quick speed and can lay down the bunt with the best of them while Carmichael has a strong arm in the field and provides power at the plate.
Another athlete who saw time in the outfield last year will also find herself playing first base for the Gators this year. Ellie Thomas has a keen eye while at the plate and works the opposing pitchers to really work when she’s in the batter’s box. Thomas, who is also a lefty, will have a positive effect on the Gators’ lineup and will never know where she is batting in the lineup until game day.
Rounding out the seniors will be infielder Cami Bernard, who has herself an excellent command of the glove and plays great defense. At the plate, she will bat in the heart of the Grafton lineup as she can hit not only with power but for average as well. Last season Bernard had numerous clutch hits for the Gators and Danish is looking for her to continue that this spring.
Grafton’s goals are simple – Danish would love to repeat as the SWCL Champions and crack the top ten of the power rankings as they enter the tournament so that they have some home games. And if that all works, who knows Grafton may be able to make a run through the Division 2 Tournament and capture a title.
Grafton will open the season on Thursday March 30 against Shepherd Hill and will then see Wachusett pay them a visit giving the Gators two very good challenges to begin the season. After those two contests Danish will have a good idea of what type of identity this team has and what they need to work on to accomplish their goals.