HOWLAND, Maine — After winning the first state softball championship for Penobscot Valley High School last year, the opening week of tryouts and practice for pitchers and catchers has the defending Class D champion Howlers back at square one, or in their case Howler one.
“What we do, instead of doing a cheer, we put our hands up and yell ‘Howler One,’ ‘Howler Two,’” depending on the number of wins they would be at, said coach Thom Coyle. “I told them last year, if you get to Howler 18 or Howler 19, then you’re going to be real close to the state game.”
Howler 19 turned out to be the Class D state championship game, which the Howlers claimed with a 4-2 victory over the Richmond Bobcats at Coffin Field in Brewer.
Coyle plans on having the team continue the pregame routine.
“We’ll start with Howler one and work our way through,” said Coyle. “On the bulletin board outside their locker room, I keep tab of their numbers. They watch the number grow, and hopefully we’ll have quite a few numbers up there.”
The Howlers graduated five seniors from last year’s team, including four starters, but they have several key players back, starting with senior pitcher Kayla Dube. She pitched every game of their 19-1 championship season.
“She knows what the expectations are,” Coyle said. “She doesn’t really have to prove anything.”
She keeps on improving, though.
“She has five pitches. She’s got the whole arsenal. Most of the umpires and people last year couldn’t believe the rotation and the movement of the ball,” Coyle said. “Now she’s working on a screwball. She was pitching that [Thursday] and it really looked good.”
And her batterymate is definite as well. Jenna Hope, a junior, has caught Dube for five of the last six years.
“They go down [to Bucksport] and pitch together [for pitching specialist Bob Mercer] on Sundays, they play in the dome together and they know each other well,” Coyle said.
After that, there may be some shuffling to fill the gaps left by the graduated players, but he’s not concerned too much.
“I can replace the defensive play of the four [starters] that I’ve lost,” Coyle said.
It’s the hitters that he’ll need to find, but he believes that will come.
“I’ve got a few that could’ve probably played on other peoples’ teams and they had to sit and watch last year,” Coyle said. “They’re hungry, they want to play.”
And that’s where the shuffling may come in because Coyle plans on putting the best team on the field, so some players may need to learn a new position, and learn it quickly.
“I have a junior [Molly McGinn] that will be a three-year starter. She was All-PVC in the outfield,” Coyle said, “but she’ll be moving to the infield somewhere.”
Junior Shaelyn Jones should be set at third base.
“She’s excellent. She’s got a good bat and an excellent fielder,” he said.
But Bethany Heald will be on the move.
“She’s played left field for me for [three] years. I’ll probably put her in center,” he said. And he hopes her batting stroke returns to help pick up the slack.
“She batted fantastic her freshman and sophomore years, but last year she had a little slump,” Coyle said.
Sisters Brittany Moon, a junior, and Morgan Moon, a sophomore, are also likely starters, according to Coyle, who won’t see any position players officially until their tryouts and practices start Monday.
“They’ll find a place in the infield, I’m sure.” he said. “One probably at first and the other could be second or shortstop, or she could be in the outfield, too.”
He stresses to the players that it may take them a while to get the position they want, but it’s always possible if they work hard in practice.
“If you think you can beat somebody out that week, then you show me and you take the position,” Coyle said. “They compete. There’ll be a few that’ll be in the outfield or at second base that don’t want to be there, but the alternative is you can sit on the bench and watch somebody else play. It’s a great incentive, and they all know it.”
Other key players will include two freshmen, pitcher Arianna McKinnon and catcher Mallory Workman.
McKinnon will back up Dube but play somewhere else until she’s needed on the mound.
“She’s been pitching for three years now with Bob Mercer [with Wortman as her catcher],” Coyle said. “She shows a lot of promise, but she’ll probably play somewhere else. She’s a gifted athlete … and she’s someone who’s going to be hard to keep out of the lineup.”
Two sophomores, Megan Howie and Kasha Sereyko [the third pitcher], will handle the bulk of the courtesy running, especially Howie.
“She’s tiny, but she’s fast,” Coyle said.
The Howlers know what they did, and they know what they have to do if they want to hang onto it.
“[The girls] know it’s not going to be easy,” Coyle said. “That’s our goal. They know they can’t let down.”