Saugus starter Caitlyn Wood will be the mainstay in the circle. (File Photo)

Saugus softball will need its ‘A’ game this season

SAUGUS -- Each season, the Saugus softball team's goal is to qualify for the state tournament.

Sachems coach Steve Almquist has guided the team to tournament appearances in each of his three seasons at the helm of the program.

But this season the Sachems will have their work cut out for them. If they'd like to make their fourth postseason trip in a row, they'll have to bring their top effort each game.

"The Northeastern Conference is going to be extremely competitive this year," Almquist said. "We're in the NEC/South so we'll play Danvers, Swampscott, Gloucester, Winthrop, Peabody, Beverly and Marblehead twice. They're all great teams and they return great players. For crossover games we play Medford and Classical, two great teams.

"Pretty much everybody we have on our schedule is state tournament-tested," Almquist said. "It's going to be a tough year. There are no easy games on the schedule."

The bright side is Saugus returns a solid core of experienced players this season. It starts in the circle, with junior right-hander Caitlyn Wood.

"Caitlyn was a NEC All-Star last year, team MVP," Almquist said. "Caitlyn pretty much did it all for us last year. She was our team leader in RBI, average and runs scored. She was a huge part of our success last year. She's had a good offseason, she's gotten stronger. We're looking for her to build on that this year."

Sophomore Alexa Ferraro returns at second base. Ferraro hit .307 during her freshman season last spring.

"Alexa's extremely well-versed," Almquist said. "She can play a number of different positions. She really settled into second base last year. She's arguably our best defensive infielder."

Also returning are seniors Emma Howard (outfielder), Ashley Shaw (outfielder), DJ Munafo (catcher), Sadie DiCenso (first baseman) and Nystasia Rowe (outfielder). Senior infielder Alessia Salzillo, a NEC all-star in girls basketball, returns to the diamond after a two-year hiatus.

"Alessia's an extremely athletic kid," Almquist said. "She's an all-conference field hockey and basketball player. I'm looking for her to fill a void at shortstop this year. She's very athletic. She has speed, she has a great arm. She'll be a great contributor this year."

Sophomore Leah Ventre, a right-handed pitcher, projects to log some innings in the circle.

The co-captains this season are DiCenso, Howard, Munafo, Shaw and Wood.

"They're all great kids and great students," Almquist said. "They've all come up in the program together. They've all been together since youth league. They're extremely great leaders and they're looked up to by the other members of the team. I'm lucky to have them. All five of them are another coach on the field. They make my job easier."

The Sachems finished the 2018 regular season at 11-9 and earned the No. 14 seed in Division 2 North. Saugus' tournament run was short-lived, as the Sachems were bounced from the postseason after a 4-1 loss to No. 3 Triton in the first round.

Almquist felt last season's team did a solid job in competing each game but struggled to push runs across with timely hits.

"I was happy with the season," Almquist said. "It was another good season. It was our third consecutive season with a winning record and in the tournament. Naturally I would've liked to have gone further with the kids but anytime you can post a winning record and make the tournament, that's a good season in my eyes.

"I feel very optimistic," Almquist said. "I'm excited to see what they can do this year. A couple of them had uncharacteristically off years last year. They've all worked hard. I think we'll be a little more athletic this year. We have some speed. It's kind of a blue-collar team. We won't 'wow' anybody but we'll grind things out, keep things close and find ways to win."

Saugus opens the season April 12 (4 p.m.) with a non-conference tilt at Stoneham. The Sachems play their first home game of the season April 17 (4 p.m.) against Danvers.

"We have a lot of seniors and our goal is to get them as many games as possible," Almquist said. "If we're still playing in June that means we're in the tournament, for the fourth year in a row. Our goal is to remain competitive."


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