WEST NEWBURY — Finishing 2008 with a mark of 7-12 and missing the postseason for the fourth straight year, the Pentucket softball team didn't earn its sixth win until the last week of the regular season.
With three weeks of games still to play, the 2009 Sachems are already 6-6, and though their upcoming schedule is no walk in the park, it's clear that Dennis Puleo's team has quickly earned its dues.
Along with the senior leadership of co-captains Tyne Darke and Sam Morrow, the Sachems are rolling along in strong part to the efforts of a trio of sophomores, who after spending their freshman year struggling to learn the varsity ropes, have entered the playing field with something to prove.
Sarah Dickinson (third base), Bernadette Corrado (first base), and Julianne Meehan (pitcher) have exploded onto the scene and are doing their best to catapult the Sachems back into contention.
"It's been great having them contribute," said Morrow, one of the team's three seniors, along with Darke and Brittany Keith. "Sarah has been hitting, Bernadette is playing great defense, and Julianne has been pitching well. Knowing that we have such a young and talented core will be great for the future Pentucket teams."
The three girls have been playing softball together for the better part of a decade (periodically under Meehan's father, Greg) and after a shaky freshman year on the varsity squad, the trio agreed that last season's experience has paid dividends.
"I had never played against such competitive softball," explained Dickinson, who attributes Scott Bevan at Extra Innings in Salisbury as a main reason for her stellar hitting. "I was really tentative out there, but this year, I've seen things before, and I've been in certain situations. I understand how to handle things better, which (in turn) has led to less mental mistakes."
Coined by Puleo as a hard worker with one of the strongest arms on the team, Dickinson is the squad's leadoff batter and is leading the team with a .415 average, 17 hits, and 10 runs. She has compiled four RBIs, four doubles, three stolen bases, one triple, one walk, one home run, and has a slugging percentage of .634 and an on-base percentage of .463.
Perhaps the player with the most to prove is starting pitcher Julianne Meehan, who explained that work at various camps have helped her immeasurably.
"My pitching coach Meghan Biddle has really helped me along, and the extra repetitions I get from working at her camp have also been a big reason," said Meehan who, along with her sister Jen, also did some training at DB's Baseball and Softball Instructional Academy in North Andover. "It was hard being a freshman, but I think I've been able to manage my control that much better, and I'm really excited to make this push for the tourney."
At the plate, Meehan has a batting average of .333 with six runs, four RBIs, two doubles, and 11 hits. At the mound, she has a record of 6-4 with a 4.51 ERA (47 earned runs in 73 innings) and totals of 65 strikeouts and 37 walks.
Batting in the clean-up spot, Corrado has been Pentucket's most devastating hitter, arguably their most reliable infielder, and attests that besides a strong summer league and extra batting lessons, her mentality has also found a new look.
"I think it comes down to experience and adjusting to the pace of the varsity level, but my confidence has also really increased," said Corrado, who also practices with her dad, Tony. "I understand what's expected of me and how to stay focused, whereas last year, I wasn't quite sure."
Corrado leads the team with 19 RBIs, three triples, and three home runs. She also boasts a .385 batting average, a .415 on-base percentage, and a .744 slugging percentage while scoring eight runs, connecting on a double, drawing a walk and stealing a base. Corrado has also been near perfect at first base; amassing 97 put-outs and four assists while committing only a single error.
The Sachems have two other sophomores (Julia Torvi and Colleen Jenkins) — both first-year varsity players — who despite playing freshman ball last season, appear to be following the trend of Meehan, Corrado and Dickinson, as players who after getting their feet wet, should benefit come their junior season.
Puleo likes what he sees in his young cast of Sachems.
"I think the key to our success, along with any team's success, is the pitching. If Julianne goes, then we go," explained Puleo, who credits his young starter for taking a leadership role upon herself. "We're going to miss the seniors, but there's some nice talent here. We need to learn the game a bit more, limit the errors and stay consistent, but we have a good nucleus of promising, young players."
Co-captain Darke loves how her underclassmen are playing, but she stressed that the team needs to understand that their strong play will be needed most as the season grinds to a halt.
"It's really crucial for these sophomores to play this well for us to be successful, and they've certainly proven that they can hit and play the field as well as any player," Darke said. "But what's most important for this team, especially if we want to get to the tournament, is that we need to stay focused. We have the physical abilities, but we need the right mentality. I know we can continue to win."