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Saturday, April 21 Sports

Softball season preview for Ludlowe, Warde, Notre Dame

Fairfield Warde

The Mustangs are in good position to improve substantially on last year's 8-12 campaign, in which they lost in the opening round of the CIAC Class LL tournament. This expected improvement will be driven by the return of last season's entire starting lineup.

"Our experience as a team gives us strength at all positions," coach Gary Quiricone said.

Warde is led by senior captains Michelle Treglia and Kenzie Burns, who will provide strong defense at shortstop and second as well as anchoring the lineup.

Warde's depth at bat is its most significant strength. In addition to Treglia and Burns, the lineup features catcher Brianna West and outfielder Richelle Barone, both juniors, and sophomores Sarah Cotto and Emma Houghton, who are both expected to play in the outfield and at first base. Each of these players batted better than .300 last season. Quirocone said his players must improve at hitting with runners in scoring position for the Mustangs to be successful.

Sophomore pitcher Gabi Natoli is Warde's No. 1 starter. The extensive experience Natoli obtained as a freshman and her consistency should help her to improve throughout the season.

As of now, the team does not have one or two ultimate goals for the season. However, the Mustangs are definitely holding themselves to a high standard.

"With all the experience our players possess, we are capable of having both an excellent regular season and postseason. This group has great chemistry and confidence, and they strongly believe this can be an outstanding year," Quiricone said.

Fairfield Ludlowe

The Falcons return the core of last season's squad that went 16-8 and advanced to the second round of the Class LL tournament. They are driven to improve on that success this season, and believe that the key to doing so is improving each day.

Ludlowe graduated just two starters, its lone seniors from 2013. Brenna Martini and Gillian Kennedy, who are seniors this year, and junior Katie DeCarlo each received conference honors in 2013. Martini, the Falcons' third baseman, was first-team All-FCIAC, while Kennedy (outfielder) and DeCarlo (catcher) received honorable mention. Martini is a skilled fielder and power hitter, while Kennedy has excellent speed and serves as a vocal leader. Senior outfielder Colleen Lambert will contribute slick fielding and a knack for clutch plays. Martini, Kennedy and Lambert are Ludlowe's captains.

The Falcons' strengths include their defense, base running and bunting. First-year head coach Shari Paci said the offense could be formidable, but only if her hitters become more consistent. Paci says the Falcons' chemistry and work ethic make them highly capable of improving each day.

"We maintain our chemistry as a team by spending a lot of time together off the field, eating meals and doing similar activities as a group," Paci said. "Me, and my coaches, also emphasize to our players that they must be prepared to make impact plays and pick one another up when needed. Finally, we do a lot of drills in practice that are designed to improve our conditioning."

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Ludlowe's biggest question mark heading into the season is pitching. As of now, its hurlers are freshman Brittany Romero and senior Bridgette Anderson. Paci has not yet decided who will be the No. 1 starter.

The Falcons' ultimate goals are to reach the finals of the FCIAC and LL tournaments.

Notre Dame-Fairfield

This season is important for the Lancers in determining whether the program is capable of turning things around following two tumultuous seasons. If Notre Dame's experienced players improve and its promising group of first-time starters consistently develops, the Lancers could earn a state tournament berth. However, they could also struggle to improve on last season's 4-16 record if the players cannot reach their potential and develop chemistry with one another.

After losing four starters, Notre Dame's starting lineup features a mix of returning starters and unproven underclassmen. The Lancers will open with a freshman battery of Madison Letizia and Dayneira Artis, who will be behind he plate. First-year head coach Ron Barber said it's likely Letizia will start every regular season game on the mound, and that she and Artis need to mesh if the season is to be a success. Letizia will most likely bat fifth. Freshman Shelby Nolan will start at second. Sophomores Mackenzie Dobbins and Emily Schofield will start at shortstop and in center field. Dobbins played center field and pitched last season, while Schofield, a Trumbull JV a year ago, will bat leadoff. She is being counted on to provide speed and strong fielding.

Junior Becky Stefanatos earned All-SWC honors for the second consecutive season in 2013 after batting .535 with two home runs. Stefanatos has moved from shortstop to third base, and Barber said she could be in the hunt for All-State recognition. Megan Gless, who has moved from catcher to first, is the Lancers' lone senior starter. Gless and Stefanatos are captains.

"In addition to Stefanatos, the team's biggest strengths are its up-the-middle defense and depth," Barber said. "Our defenders will take pressure off Letizia, and our depth will provide options for reworking the starting lineup."

Barber is evaluating who his left and right field starters will be, and that players still must significantly improve their skill level and physical and mental preparation for the Lancers to contend.

Danny Atkinson is a freelance reporter