Chesapeake softball coach Durrie Hayes isn’t sure which is more impressive: his returning veteran outfield or the splendid crop of freshmen he brought to the program.
Either way, it adds up to another promising season for the Skipjacks, who are ranked No. 16 in the country in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II preseason poll.
Hayes, whose team opened March 9 with a six-day, 10-game road trip to Florida, says his outfield of sophomores Kristina Shank, Savannah Miller and Cat Ramagnano is “the best I’ve ever had,” in his decade on the job.
The group packs a powerful offensive punch and offers plenty of speed for program coming off a 32-8 season.
Ramagnano, a center fielder who will play at Salisbury University next season, drove in 29 runs, clubbed four home runs and batted .368 while leading the team with 35 stolen bases.
Miller, a left fielder, hit .400 and had four home runs.
Shank knocked in 34 runs, batted .359 and swiped 16 bases.
“They all are very athletic,” Hayes says. “They all were center fielders in high school. They all have big arms and they all are complete players.”
So is sophomore catcher Abby Nelson, another returning starter who will also see time at third base.
Nelson, a cleanup hitter, led the team in RBIs (40) and ranked third in batting average (.391).
She possesses a strong arm and does an excellent job of handling pitchers.
“She is just athletic, smart and really understands the game,” Hayes said.
Nelson will anchor an infield that also includes four freshmen — first baseman Kassidy Willis, shortstop/third baseman Alyssa Kendall, second baseman Julia Collins and shortstop/third baseman Annie Gerwitz — along with sophomore first baseman/third baseman Courtney Stubbs.
“They are a really skilled freshmen class,” says Hayes, who also boasts freshman pitcher Ashley Woodall. “It’s pretty balanced. I don’t have any superstars, but I have a solid group that could develop into a special group.”
Hayes has been particularly impressed with Gerwitz.
“She’ll be a good player,” he says. “Annie is really softball smart. She is always in the right spot. And she has leadership qualities.”
Hayes wants Gerwitz to help bring the infield together and develop some chemistry.
“They’re still learning our system,” Hayes explained. “That’s a challenge. We are very inexperienced in the infield other than Abby. It’s a matter of continuity and them getting used to each other. They have to play together and get the experience.”
One of Hayes’ biggest tasks is to replace pitcher Rachel Milligan, the Maryland JUCO Player of the Year in 2016. She posted 17-3 last year with an 1.26 ERA and a whopping 169 strikeouts.
The coach will turn to sophomore Megan Joyner and Woodall to fill the huge void.
“I have been encouraged from what I have seen from our pitchers,” Hayes says.
Nelson has been working closely with the two hurlers since practice started Jan. 30 and she says Joyner and Woodall each have three effective pitches.
Joyner pitched last year for Wilmington College in Ohio.
“Having pitched in college will calm her down,” Nelson said. “She’ll be able to handle her emotions. It’s a great experience for her having to do it in tight situations.”
The Skipjacks starts their home schedule with a doubleheader against New Jersey’s Cumberland County College (Noon) on March 18.
“We lost some great players, but everybody that coach Durrie brought in has specialized roles,” Nelson says. “I’m excited to see what the season brings.”