OLD TOWN, Maine — During the first day of tryouts and practice for softball and baseball, it’s a good idea for participants to keep their wits about them.
Old Town High School softball’s session for five pitchers and four catchers Monday afternoon was a case in point.
During one drill, a pitch from senior ace Kendra Hayward zipped past senior catcher Kelsey Hesseltine.
As Hesseltine turned to retrieve the ball, a pitch from sophomore Rachel Martin eluded twin sister Lauren Martin next to Hesseltine and ricocheted off the closed up bleachers at about head-high.
Hesseltine instinctively caught the ball in her bare right hand, calmly collected her ball from the floor with her glove and casually tossed the ball in her hand to Lauren Martin.
For the Coyotes, the steady thump of the landing foot hitting the floor, the pop of a ball snagged in a catcher’s glove and the occasional “POP” for a hard throw filled the gym.
“The first couple of days are always rough,” said Hesseltine, “but we still love it, we enjoy it, even though it pushes us.”
Monday’s session was for just pitchers and catchers, with a maximum of 10 players allowed during the upcoming week. Full-squad tryouts and practices begin next Monday for baseball and softball as well as tennis, lacrosse and outdoor track and field.
Coach Jenn Plourde, who led the Class B Coyotes to their first state softball championship last spring, was eager to get going.
“I’ve been antsy all winter long,” said Plourde, an assistant coach for girls basketball this past season. “To see them in a different sport is nice, but [she wondered] when is it our time to get back at it?”
That day was Monday, and the pitchers and catchers were just as eager.
“We’re all wicked excited to be back here and back in the gym and back together again,” said Hayward, the pitcher in last June’s 4-1 win over Fryeburg in the state game.
“It came up pretty quick again,” said a smiling Hesseltine. “It seems like our old season just got done. It still hasn’t hit that we got the championship. Hopefully, we can do it again this year.”
That was a draw for freshman pitching hopeful Kayla Hayward, Kendra’s sister.
“I’m really excited for this season,” said Kayla Hayward. “I know all last year watching my sister play just made me so excited to play high school softball and I’m so looking forward to it actually starting.”
Plourde doesn’t want them to worry about defending the title, yet.
“We’re trying to keep them level-headed about the whole thing,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I want them to enjoy everything that they did last year because what they did was amazing, and it was fun to be a part of. But it’s a new season and we’re trying to be modest about everything.”
Hesseltine was on the same wave-length.
“I think we need to just try not to think of it and just play like we did last season,” Hesseltine said, “and not think, ‘Oh, we’ve got to defend our state championship.’ Just go out and have fun still.”
Kayla Hayward wasn’t nervous about the work they would need to do to prepare for the season, which can start after 3 p.m. on April 11.
“I just heard from my sister that [preseason] is a lot of fun. It’s intense, but it’s all worth it,” she said. “I want to be in her position, pitching in a state championship game. I think I was really excited for it [to start].”
They still have to do the work, though.
“Today was more on accuracy and to see what the girls had,” said Plourde, who told the pitchers after practice that they were going to work more on speed Tuesday.
The Haywards have been working on their pitching all winter, though, including working with pitching specialist Bob Mercer, the former Bucksport High coach.
“We go down there every Sunday,” said Kayla Hayward. “[From] September until May or June. I’ve been doing it since I was in fifth grade.”
Plourde was excited to see a couple of freshmen among the five pitchers at Monday’s practice. She considers that as a huge plus for keeping the Coyotes challenging for the top.
“I knew what we had coming back and we have two good freshmen coming in,” she said, “and it’s great to see the program really developing into a long-term success, hopefully.”