TOPSFIELD — Cassie Schultz approached the offseason with the same mentality as always: Outsmart everyone to rise above the competition.
With an eye on their future, players sign up for AAU summer ball to get more playing time and increase their exposure to college coaches.
Suiting up for the New England Diamond Gems and gearing up for her senior season as starting catcher at Amesbury High, Schultz also took it upon herself to form a closer relationship with the pitching staff.
Her motivation was not purely for her role as a batterymate. She wanted to pick their brains for the tendencies of hitters, and their response, in large part to identify flaws in her own swing and stance.
Now, when she steps up to the plate, she feels like she is a step ahead. “I’m seeing the ball really well,” she said. “I’m recognizing the flaws in my swing, so I know what’s coming.”
In the fifth inning of a matchup Wednesday against host Masconomet Regional, she identified a changeup. And Schultz did not miss her pitch.
The offering was away, but she stayed back in her stance and sat on it, crushing the ball to the opposite field before legging out a run-scoring triple.
By the time the .561 hitter came up to the plate again — working a five-pitch walk to load the bases — the 11-1 Indians were already well on their way to a 12-0 mercy-rule victory. But that did not stop the hustling captain from scoring all the way from first base on a bases-clearing double by left fielder Ashley Valme , a fellow captain who has made a smashing return after missing all of her junior campaign following knee surgery. She also showed off skills as a backstop.
Masco threatened in the second inning, loading the bases with nobody out. But Schultz calmly called a perfect plan under pressure, executed by senior captain Carolina Merrill , who struck out two and jammed a third batter to get out of the inning unscathed.
Amesbury coach Chris Perry said he knew what he had in Schultz during her first two seasons on the varsity, even though she was not getting any work behind the plate. With Laura Kaminski , the Division 2 Player of the Year her senior year, entrenched as the starting catcher, Schultz played second as a freshman and shortstop the following year. “Cassie was waiting in the wings and . . . is very versatile,” said Perry. “She’s a good little fielder with soft hands. She did a nice job for us, but she’s a catcher. She knows the game, too. It’s like having a coach on the field.”
Credit working out at Denise Davis’s Planet Fastpitch in Uxbridge for part of that success. She has also received private catcher and hitting instruction. All of her work has paid off with sterling play on the field, which has resulted in a scholarship to attend the University of Rhode Island this fall.
“She’s an incredibly talented player defensively as well as offensively,” said junior Amanda Schell, who replaced Schultz at shortstop this season and delivered an RBI triple Wednesday. “Cassie is an amazing captain whose spirit, drive, and love for the game has been an essential part of our team this season.”
Schultz said she takes pride in helping teammates, even offering constructive criticism on their swings from a catcher’s view, so no one else can trick them the way she might if she were on the opposing team.
“I do get really intricate with [catching],” said Schultz. “I like the mental aspect — controlling the pitches, tricking the batters, and being the brains behind the operation. I like seeing the whole field; it helps me lead and talk to all of them and make sure we’re all ready.”
Schultz is not the only catcher serving notice this spring.
At Danvers High, sophomore Caitlin McBride has provided a potent bat in the middle of the lineup for the 12-0 Falcons, supplying timely hit after hit out while batting third.
Gia Raczkowski , a senior at Stoneham, crushed a pair of grand slams last week.
And in Marblehead, sophomore Emily Messinger has been a star. She came on strong as a freshman, leading the Magicians in home runs with five.
This season, she already has six homers, five last week, including three blasts against Gloucester. Each one flew out of a different part of the park, the first to center, the second to left, and the third to right.
After hitting .480 as a freshman, she “is batting even better” this season, said coach Johnny Gold . “More importantly, she is playing her position well defensively, too. “She’s just a terrific asset on the field for us,” said Gold. “She’s a tremendous hitter, she’s got great hands and great instincts, and it’s the same behind the plate.”
“She’s really been a leader for us. And the most impressive part, I think, is that she’s so well-rounded as a sophomore. She’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Here and there
The Medford High girls’ softball team took the field at Fenway Park Wednesday to support Patty Campbell, whose daughter, Krystle , 29, was killed in the Boston Marathon attack. Krystle was a graduate of the school and the Mustangs have dedicated their season to her. After they began wearing armbands in her honor, they had six straight wins. They started the season 0-4. . . .
Peabody High baseball coach Mark Bettencourt confirmed Thursday that his ace, senior Pat Ruotolo , is out indefinitely after discomfort in his right shoulder Wednesday against Beverly. Following a 30-minute rain delay, Ruotolo faced one batter and gave up a home run before leaving the game. Peabody lost 6-1.