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Nipmuc Softball Poised for Deep Playoff Run

Last spring, the Nipmuc softball team won the Dual Valley conference and earned a spot in the sectional tournament. The Warriors won their first game before bowing out to Leominster in the second round. They also started the season with 10 consecutive wins. Matching any of these accomplishments would be a lofty ambition, but head coach Bernie Curtis's team has its sights set even higher this year.
"The girls talk about it a lot, they want to go further than they did last year," she said. "They know it's going to take a lot of hard work and determination and working together as a unit to make that happen. But they're working really hard in every practice to get where they want to be."
Nipmuc lost four seniors to graduation last year, but brings back a number of starters. Senior Jackie Cortese returns for her fourth year starting in the circle. She's won DVC Pitcher of the Year in each of the past two seasons. In 2013, she posted a 1.81 ERA with 105 strikeouts and only 18 walks in nearly 140 innings pitched.
"She keeps the ball down, said Curtis. "She doesn't give up many long balls, and last year she didn't walk many. She's always in the strike zone and with the infield we have behind her to pick up those ground balls, I think pitching and defense will be a strength of the team."
Cortese will serve as a captain this year, along with fellow middle of the order bat Kristen Niland. The pair were also captains last season. "Jackie and Kristen were co captains last year as juniors, so they know what the expectations are," said Curtis. "Their role is much greater this season, and they need to take on that role and do what they can to help some of the younger players along."
Cortese will work with the new catcher this year, as senior Danielle Schiloski takes over behind the plate. Niland is expected to start at first base, and junior Meghan Elliott will likely return as the starting shortstop. She was also among the teams leading hitters last year.
"It's always helpful to have three of our top hitters back," said Curtis. "We're hoping a couple of the younger girls can step in and fill out some of the other spots."
One young bat could be sophomore Kayla Peabody, who was called up to the varsity level last year during the season. "Last year we brought her up because she looked like she had a strong bat, "said Curtis. "She's worked hard over the winter and so far from what I see this spring, she should be very strong at the plate. She could really put some power into the lineup."
Junior Nickole McGrath saw time in centerfield last year and should see more time at that position this season. Curtis said the bad weather has kept the team indoors more often than not, and getting a sense of who will excel in the outfield has been difficult. "In the gym, we can usually run some drills for the infield, but it's tough to get any significant outfield work in," she said.
Regardless of the position, Curtis has made it clear that no player on the roster should take anything for granted coming into the new season. "We have girls that are returning from last year's varsity team and girls from the JV squad who have worked hard during the course of the winter," she said. "I told everybody that no spots are guaranteed, it's all about working hard. We are going to work hard as a team to hopefully win the league again and go even farther in the tournament."




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