Jordan McDermott says that her upstart softball team at Whitman-Hanson Regional has an adage that embodies their early success.
“Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em home.”
In a 2-0 start, the Panthers outscored Duxbury and East Bridgewater, 18-4, before dropping a 6-3 decision to Hingham Tuesday afternoon. And after the cancellation of the 2020 spring season, Whitman-Hanson is receiving a spark from its sophomore class. Haley Leeber and Olivia Turocy each homered once in each of the first two games, and Lauryn Meade tossed a no-hitter in her first varsity start.
“I was pretty confident coming into this season just because I knew how badly [the players] wanted to get back on the field, and the captains have done a fantastic job of keeping the girls in check and seeing where they are, and bringing the younger girls onboard,” said McDermott, a former East Bridgewater and Bridgewater State standout who was hired in March 2019,
Because of the pandemic, the sophomore class did not get to experience a transitional freshman year. But they have taken the challenge head on.
“The varsity team is a step up from town leagues because there is a lot more responsibility and you have to pull your own weight,” Turocy said.
The time off allowed McDermott to study the game more.
“I watched hours and hours of college games online and videos of hitting drills, and attended a few coaching ‘webinars’ to keep myself in the swing of things,” said McDermott, who coached Massasoit Community College to a regional championship berth in 2018.
For senior tri-captains Emily McDonald, Reese Codero, and Abby Cleary, the benefit of McDermott’s desire to stay in touch with the game has helped them grow as players and as leaders.
“We were able to have voluntary preseason workouts with coach Jordan so those helped us obviously get practice but also really helped us get to know each other,” said Codero, a senior shortstop.
“Because I remember the feeling of being a freshman, but with the girls who are sophomores now that missed a year last year, me, Abby and Emily have really reached out and tried to make connections off the field to build chemistry with them.”
On opening day, Cleary threw a complete-game gem, striking out five in a 5-4 win over Duxbury. Not to be outdone by her senior teammate, Meade celebrated her first varsity start by striking out 15 in a 12-0 no-hit performance against East Bridgewater in the next game.
“I had my two-seamer and crossover that were just really working well for me that day,” said Meade, who also homered.
For McDermott, the connection between the senior captain and sophomore standout is crucial for the Panthers’ success in the circle.
“Lauren has a great work ethic, she’s always trying to find different ways to improve,” McDermott said. “It’s nice having her as a pitcher and Abby has really been working with her to help that improvement. We want to give them both the chance to dominate — especially Abby, so that she has the opportunity to have the senior year she deserves.”
Whitman-Hanson is seeking its first postseason appearance since 2015when the 12th-seeded Panthers knocked off defending state champion Bridgewater-Raynham.
“If you’re building a house and you don’t have a solid foundation, that house is going to fall,” said McDermott. “Our basic mechanics are our foundation for how we want to be successful, and we have to keep focusing on those.”
▪ On Monday, by an 11-2 vote, the MIAA’s Board of Directors approved Rule 79, Part V, which in essence, allows prior to starting the delivery, the pitcher must have just their pivot foot in contact with the rubber, instead of both feet. The rule change, effective immediately, eliminates Rule 79.3, and is now compliant with NFHS rules.
Norwood coach Carol Savino — in her 57th year coaching the sport — believes the new rule won’t change much for the most talented or the least skilled pitchers in the state but will benefit the middle tier.
“There are pitchers whose mechanics aren’t great so it’s not going to help them either way and for the kids that don’t take lessons, there’s no advantage,” said Savino, the founder and program director of the Mass Drifters. “Kids who have been working on it and played all summer with one foot will be able to get a better drive.”
The 2020 spring season was scheduled to be a trial year for the rule change, so many of the state’s pitchers have been working with one foot on the rubber in travel or club ball in anticipation of the MIAA following suit.
“I think for the kids’ sake, it’s the best thing because they don’t have to be confused anymore and you don’t have to re-learn,” said Savino.
▪ Leah Ventre, a senior captain at Saugus, fired five perfect innings with 10 strikeouts to pick up her first varsity win in a 12-0 Northeastern Conference win over Salem Friday.
“A younger version of myself possibly could have crumbled on the pressure,” said Ventre. “But I definitely got on the mound and took many deep breaths before almost every pitch and really took my time.”
What made the moment even sweeter was Leah’s little sister, Lily, is the starting catcher for Saugus — as an eighth grader — and went 3 for 3 with a single, double, triple, and three RBIs.
“It was very cool. I’m super proud of her,” said Leah.
▪ No win from the past week was more exciting than Needham’s 6-3 victory over Bay State Conference rival Braintree on Thursday. With the Rockets trailing, 3-2, in the bottom of the seventh, sophomore pinch-hitter Amanda Ferriera stepped up to her first varsity at-bat and smashed a home run to dead center to tie the game.
“I definitely thought like I couldn’t even imagine if I hit a home run right now like how insane that would be and I actually did it,” said Ferriera.
Upon her return to the dugout, Ferriera told junior Emma Ferrara that she’d be next. Sure enough with runners on first and second, Ferrara launched the ball over the fence in center.
“I threw my hands in the air immediately,” said Ferrara. “I was so excited and didn’t believe it happened at all.”
Games to watch
Wednesday, No. 20 Amesbury at No. 13 North Reading (4 p.m.) — Amesbury defeated the Hornets, 5-3, in their lone meeting in 2019.
Friday, No. 8 St. Mary’s at No. 3 Austin Prep (4 p.m.) — The Catholic Central rivals last clashed in the D3 North final, in which Prep prevailed, 2-1, on the way to winning the state title.
Monday, No. 17 Middleborough at No. 19 Abington (4 p.m.) — In 2019, Middleborough finished just a game back of the Green Wave in the South Shore League race.
Friday, Braintree at No. 10 Newton North (3:45 p.m.) — In 2019, the Wamps knocked North off of its No. 1 ranking with a 4-3 win in Braintree.
Monday, Dracut at No. 1 Lowell (6 p.m.) — The Middies ran into a red-hot Gianna LaCedra in a 1-0 loss two years ago in a Merrimack Valley Conference battle.
Correspondent Steve Sousa also contributed to this story.