With more time together on the varsity stage, the veterans on the Cattaraugus-Little Valley softball team has more experience, higher batting averages and higher expectations for themselves.
The Timberwolves started this season 4-1, now 4-2 after a setback against Olean, hoping to build on last spring’s 10-7 record. With nine returning starters, four of them for the third season, the team believed in itself to start the year.
“They seem pretty confident,” coach Heather Kagelmacher said. “They like that they have a lot of experience. I've returned I think four of them (as) three-year starters, so we don't have to go over all the minor details that you would have to with somebody that's less experienced.”
Senior first baseman Lauren Eaton and three juniors — pitcher Emma Rupp, shortstop Lexi Wulf and third baseman Emily Horth — have all started since 2017. Along with Eaton, C-LV returns two other senior starters: second baseman Bridget Murphy and left fielder Mackenzie Ryan.
C-LV’s season started 3-0 with wins over Ellicottville, North Collins and Franklinville.
“We started out pretty strong. Our bats have been there,” Kagelmacher said. “Our defense started off good and now it's a little bit rocky. Hopefully we can kind of straighten that out next week. We had great weather to work with. It's not like we're still trying to get out for the first time or just getting on the field for the first time.”
But even with an experienced team, Kagelmacher said the T-Wolves still need occasionally reminders.
“Like, 'Hey, we have to work on this mechanic because you've forgotten about it,' and stuff like that,” she said. “They're all confident, I'm confident that they can do it, it's just reminding them that they still have to work at it too.”
Rupp has pitched just eight innings while dealing with an arm injury, Kagelmacher noted. In her place, sophomore Lexi Mikowicz has shown to be capable.
“We're not like a dominant pitching team without her,” Kagelmacher noted of Rupp, “but also Lexi Mikowicz has stepped in and she's pitched almost 30 innings and she's done what we've asked her to do. She keeps the walks down and she lets them put the ball in play so that we can play defense.”
Wulf (.472 average, 18 RBI last spring) is a two-time first-time league all-star, while Rupp (.373) made first team last year and Eaton (.328, 20 RBI) made second.
“Lexi Wulf is typically one of our top offensive players,” Kagelmacher said, breaking down her lineup. “She's quick, she can steal bases. Lauren Eaton, she's been, I want to say she has 18 hits this season already. She makes good single hits. She puts the ball in play and she can read most pitchers.
“And Emma, she's been pretty solid too. Her average is up there for hitting. She already has a home run and a triple already. And we have Izzy Deliman, she's been really good at RBIs so her average isn't as high as everyone else's (at the top of the lineup), but in clutch situations she's been able to drive runs in too.”
The T-Wolves moved up to CCAA East I this season, competing against Olean, Portville, Allegany-Limestone, Gowanda and Salamanca. In sectionals, they will play in Section 6 Class C-1.
Kagelmacher said she’d like to start seeing balanced production from the entire lineup, after a strong start from the top of the order.
“We did get hits from some of the bottom of the lineup to string a comeback against Randolph a couple of weeks ago,” Kagelmacher said. “But other than that it hasn't been a good showing for the last half of the lineup, so I'd like to see them get more confident. They're all capable of hitting. They just have to have a little bit more confidence when they get in the batter's box.
“And then, if we can't have Emma pitching and Lexi's on the mound, Lexi, like I said, has been amazing, and then my other pitcher that I pull up when I can has been amazing too. I just need to see them make better plays on defense, like catch the fly ball that they had to track down rather than letting it bounce. Just making more conscientious defensive plays.”