By MIKE SMITH
With an ace hurler, a host of returning starters and last season’s playoff loss to Ardsley still fresh in their memory, the Rye Neck softball team is looking to get off to a hot start in 2014 and potentially vie for a Class B crown this spring.
Rye Neck comes into the season with a familiar name in the circle, as pitcher Diana King will try to best her stellar 2013 campaign.
King, who has been the ace of the staff for the last few years, has shown some improvements in the early goings of spring practices thus far, according to head coach Joan Spedafino.
“She’s an amazing girl, she works out all year for softball,” Spedafino said. “She seems stronger, both offensively and defensively, as her ball is snapping more and she’s a more complete hitter.”
King will anchor a lineup that also features some potent bats including All-League infielders Nicole Miller and Brianna Cefaloni.
“They’re both nice contact hitters,” Spedafino said. “And we know the rest of the lineup is going to contribute as well.”
In addition to the seven returning starters, Spedafino has been pleased thus far by the addition of two eighth graders, pitcher Olivia Dunn and catcher Samantha Yanuzzi. Spedafino said the young duo have been willing students throughout the first few weeks of the season.
“I think the two of them fit in so nicely,” Spedafino said. “They’ve been in the program a couple of years and they’re like sponges, absorbing as much as they can.”
Both Yanuzzi and Dunne—like the majority of the current Rye Neck roster—got their introduction to the program during the annual youth clinic the team holds for young softball players. On March 22, the squad took some time to work with a number of aspiring players up to the sixth grade level to help get the new generation of Panthers ready for high school softball.
“We do it every year, and we had over 60 girls on Saturday,” Spedafino said. “Most of the girls came through that program so in a way, it’s a very circular situation.”
The Panthers again find themselves in a tough league, which features both Class AA and A schools, including perennial powerhouse Harrison. According to Spedafino, that type of league schedule should more than prepare the squad for a deep playoff run—even if they haven’t started to think about the postseason just yet.
“We always take it one game at a time,” Spedafino said. “We play in such a tough league with Harrison, Fox Lane and Valhalla.”
With the season scheduled to kick off on March 31 against Ossining, Spedafino said that as long as the defense is tight, big things could be in store for the Panther team.
“Defense is so important, especially when you play against these teams,” she said. “If you get someone to pop-up or hit a grounder, those are plays you have to make.”