AUGUSTA, Maine — Cony High School softball will defend its Class A state championship with the same strengths it used to win it — pitching and power.
Those attributes will be especially important early this season as the Rams seek to replace starters who comprised much of the defense up the middle of the field.
Cony has a few days to work on their issues as the Rams play their first game next Wednesday at Lawrence of Fairfield, but other teams will start earlier.
The Maine Principals’ Association allows spring sports to get under way after 3 p.m. Thursday. A few teams scheduled games for Thursday and Friday, but most teams won’t start until next week during the spring school vacation break.
Senior pitcher Sonja Morse, who concluded the 2012 season by tossing back-to-back shutouts in the Eastern Maine and state championship games, was ready for the Rams to hit the field again.
“I was really anxious [to get started],” she said. “I know the whole team was.”
Defense has been the focus for Cony with new players taking over at catcher, second base and center field.
Rocky Gaslin, in his ninth year as Cony’s coach, sees selecting the new catcher as the most important, for two reasons.
“It’s critical [to the team’s defense],” said Gaslin, who has been trying out a few players to fill the position.
The other reason is the fact last year’s catcher, Nicky Rugan, was the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference East Player of the Year. She was a stalwart on defense, called the pitches and hit nine of the team’s 22 home runs.
Despite that power loss, Gaslin expects to maintain the same philosophy on offense.
“We have six players with power,” said Gaslin. “We used to play bunt and slap, but we’ll be swinging the bats [again] this year.”
Key power hitters are Arika Brochu, Alyssah Dennett and sisters Maggie and Molly Russell. Brochu had five homers in 2012, and Dennett and Maggie Russell had three each.
Molly Russell, a senior and a year older than Maggie, had only one home run last year, but Gaslin is impressed with her bat.
“She hits the ball hard, probably harder than anyone on the team,” he said.
The reason Molly Russell had fewer homers than the others, he said, is because she hits more line drives.
She thought last year could have been better and believes this year will be.
“Last year wasn’t what I was hoping for,” Russell said. “I started slow, then got better as the season went on.
“This year, I started right off pounding the ball.”
Coaches and players all agree their challenge will be on defense because of the positions that need filling and the players being moved around to fill them.
“It’s going to take time,” Gaslin acknowledged. “I’m not expecting miracles overnight.”
“We have to keep our heads in it,” said Molly Russell, who will play first base when Morse pitches and center field when Brochu pitches.
“We’ll tune it up by the time the season starts,” said Morse. “We have a lot of people playing new positions. We’re trying to work the kinks out.”
The key to improving the defense may start with Morse and Brochu if they can keep runners off the bases.
Last year, they averaged about 10 strikeouts and only one walk per game, according to Gaslin.
Morse tossed a one-hitter in a 2-0 shutout of South Portland in the state game last year, maintaining the no-hitter of the Red Riots for 6 2/3 innings. She shut out Brewer 1-0 in the EM title game.
Brochu, now a sophomore, hurled a three-hitter against Bangor in the 2012 regular-season finale.
“I think we have two of the best around, and we’ll start from there,” said Gaslin.