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2023 Season Preview: Strong returning nucleus bodes well for Woodstock Academy

It was an early start to the high school softball season this year.

The CIAC allowed teams to do the same as their baseball counterparts do, begin workouts for pitchers and catchers a week before the rest of the team and a week before every other spring sport was allowed to begin.

“One hundred percent,” Woodstock Academy senior pitcher Lexi Thompson said when asked if the rule change was beneficial. “We have a lot of girls who play year-round so it wasn’t too bad and it was definitely beneficial to get everyone going and throwing. Coach (Jason Gerum) talked about how it helps prevent injury and so we don’t feel as burnt out when we start and also don’t feel it as much at the end. I think we will still feel it a little bit but I think we all appreciated it.”

The other good news for Thompson is that she may not be the only one in the circle for the Centaurs this season.

She was just about that last season as she recorded all but two of the team’s decisions in an 11-11 season and finished by pitching almost 120 innings.

That may change a bit.

Sophomores Kaya Nichols and Grace DelSanto may take some of the pressure off.

“Grace looks good already and so does Kaya which gives us three legit pitchers,” Gerum said. “It’s a grueling- season in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) to be a pitcher. Seven innings against all these great players. Some of the teams we play, three-quarters of their team will be playing in college. I think Lexi was a lot more successful two years ago when we had Mackenzie (Leveille) and they took turns, gave each other break, and we had two good pitchers going back-and-forth. Lexi is also great in the field.”

And she is also very good at the plate where the Centaurs should be strong as a whole.

Woodstock Academy lost only two seniors, Jenna Bankowski and Madison Nichols, from last season.

It means seven of the top eight hitters will return to the lineup this season.

Junior Delaney Anderson, who led the team with a .431 batting average,  returns to play first base and in the outfield.

Her classmate, Sarah McArthur (.385) returns at shortstop with senior Maddie Martinez (.380) back behind the plate.

“From what we’ve seen so far, I think we will be pretty solid,” Martinez said. “We definitely have to work out some things because we have to replace a couple positions but I think we will be able to bounce back and be fine.”

Thompson hit .360 and led the team with 23 runs batted in and will likely see some time in the infield as well as in the circle this season.

Liz Morgis (.339, 20 RBIs) is also back to play first and second base; Ainsley Morse (.333) will see time at the infield corners and Savannah Schley, who came to varsity in the second half of last season and finished with a .308 average, will see more time this season at third and as a designated player.

Mia Pannone, Emily Goodell, Avery Collin and Maddie Bloom will all see time in the outfield while Aubrey Rumrill and Avery Hardacker will spell Martinez behind the plate.

“We return a lot of players who have played quite a few innings for a lot of years now. Most of the juniors and seniors in the starting lineup all started or rotated last year and a lot of them have started their whole careers,” Gerum said.

Gerum believes the Centaurs will be competitive in the always tough ECC.

“There is never any guarantees in this league. We are in one of the best leagues in the state for softball arguably, but I think we should be in the top four or five teams in the league,” Gerum said.

Having the battery of Thompson and Martinez back is also a huge bonus, even if this is their last year.

Thompson will be heading to Assumption University in Worcester to play softball for the Greyhounds.

“I wouldn’t say the pressure is off, it’s more on now than ever because I have to prepare myself. Instead of taking my foot off the gas, I’m going to be putting it all the way down. High school has always been fun,” Thompson said.

Martinez is coming off a gymnastics season which saw her incur a couple of typical injuries from that sport. She is looking forward to the break of playing a different sport which utilizes a different set of muscles and is not as strenuous nor as mentally grueling as gymnastics. She also plans to continue to play softball, as she is hoping to play on the club team at Sacred Heart University.

“It’s the last season to look forward to here at Woodstock Academy so I’m sad about it. I’ve really enjoyed playing here. It’s always so much fun,” Martinez said.

The winter was also kind to Woodstock Academy’s athletic fields.

Generally, the softball field is a mud pit in the outfield early in the season.

The lack of snow and little, if any, permafrost underneath meant the Centaurs got out to practice on their home field at the Bentley Athletic Complex this past week.

The Centaurs will also open the season at home. After a little delay due to rain on Saturday, Woodstock Academy will host St. Bernard at 4:15 p.m. Monday at the Bentley Athletic Complex.