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Junior Caroline O’Connor brings plenty of experience to third base for the Hand softball squad on the heels of her All-SCC season in 2018. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
After playing first base last year, senior captain Christina Coric is handling the pitching duties for the Hand softball team this spring. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Junior first baseman Pam Engelhart and the Tigers picked up their second win of the season by earning a 6-5 victory versus Shelton last week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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The Hand softball team will be facing its fair share of challenges this spring as it takes the field without several key players from last year’s team. However, Head Coach Mike Niekrash still believes that the Tigers have the skill and spirit that are necessary in order for his club to produce another quality campaign.
In 2018, Hand finished with an overall record of 20-4, while advancing to the quarterfinals of the Southern Connecticut Conference Tournament and the semifinals in the Class L State Tournament. This season, the Tigers are sporting a new-look roster that’s shorter on varsity experience than the one which reached the Final Four of states last June. Hand currently has a record of 2-3 that includes mark of 1-0 in the SCC Quinnipiac Division following last week’s action. After taking an 11-2 defeat at North Haven and a 9-1 home loss against Cheshire, the Tigers bounced back by notching a 6-5 victory over divisional rival Shelton in Madison on April 12.
Despite the graduations, Coach Niekrash feels optimistic about Hand’s prospects for the 2019 campaign. Niekrash loves the atmosphere surrounding his squad and is ready to help the Tigers progress with each passing game.
“We lost six starters from last year’s team, so it really took the middle of the team away. We have four players that are back from last year that had varsity experience last year, so it will take time for [the newcomers] to get up to varsity speed,” Coach Niekrash said. “We have 17 girls in the entire program, and we are using the run of the Hand girls’ basketball team to the state final as motivation. This team has potential, no question.”
Hand is being led by a pair of senior captains who are making transitions of their own this season. Senior captain Catherine Patrick is playing the shortstop position after being called up from the JV ranks. Fellow senior captain Grace Kuck, who had previously been a left fielder, moves over to the other side to play right field for the Tigers.
Hand features a pair of juniors who made the All-SCC Team last year. Caroline O’Connor returns to play the hot corner at third base, while fellow junior Christina Coric is stepping into the circle to pitch after holding down the fort at first base a season ago.
Sophomore Grace Hartmann is playing second base for Hand this spring. Sophomore classmate Abby Cody will patrol left field, junior Gina Ciotti is starting in center field, and Kuck and freshman Brooke Salutari are platooning in right field.
Junior Pam Engelhart is first baseman for the Tigers. Junior Jessica Murphy is behind the plate at the catcher’s position, and Cody will serve as backup pitcher. Freshman Megan Hart is a designated hitter for Hand.
In last week’s game against Cheshire, Kuck had three hits, while Coric and Hartmann each had two hits. Cody hit an RBI triple, and O’Connor also drove in a run in the loss.
For the Shelton victory, Hartmann went 3-for-4 with a triple and scored three runs to help Hand prevail by a 6-5 final. Hart laced a two-RBI double in the fifth inning that held up as the game-winning hit.
While the Tigers don’t have as much varsity experience as they did last year, Coach Neikrash and his team still have their sights set on securing a playoff berth this season. Neikrash said the Tigers are taking the diamond with a positive mindset as they aim to continue the program’s run of prosperity.
“Our main goal is to make the State Tournament and then win our division. Those are our two immediate goals, so anything after that, like making the SCC Tournament, is gravy,” said Niekrash. “I love coaching a team like this. There will be a lot of teaching and fun, which will hopefully lead to good results. I feel we will get better as the year goes on.”
From the Sidelines
The Hand softball team’s roster also includes juniors Anastasia Akin, Madalyn Curtis, and Isabella Johnson; along with freshmen Carly Brasky, Megan Mulhern, and Lillian Perry.
This is Mike Niekrash’s 12th season as the Tigers’ head coach. Niekrash was named the SCC Coach of the Year in 2018. Dave Buller (varsity assistant coach) and Mary Pat Maloney (JV coach) are the team’s assistant coaches.
Hand is competing in the SCC Quinnipiac Division with West Haven, Law, Shelton, and Hillhouse this season.
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