Veteran Panthers eye 2014

A Panthers hitter swings the bat at a March 21 practice. Rye Neck returns seven starters from last year’s team.

A Panthers hitter swings the bat at a March 21 practice. Rye Neck returns seven starters from last year’s team.

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.

Eighth-grader Olivia Dunne throws a pitch on March 21. Dunne has been impressive so far this preseason.

Eighth-grader Olivia Dunne throws a pitch on March 21. Dunne has been impressive so far this preseason.

“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.”

Diana King throws batting practice on March 21. King—an All-Section honoree in 2013—will once again be the ace of the Panthers’ staff.

Diana King throws batting practice on March 21. King—an All-Section honoree in 2013—will once again be the ace of the Panthers’ staff.

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.”

A Panther player takes grounders during a preseason practice. Defense will be important for the Panthers to hang in a tough league this year. Photos/Mike Smith

A Panther player takes grounders during a preseason practice. Defense will be important for the Panthers to hang in a tough league this year. Photos/Mike Smith

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.”

Contact: sports@hometwn.com

 
This entry was posted in Sports on by .

About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.