NH Softball Looks to Rebuild, then Contend

Senior captain catcher Nicole Dunlop and Indians’ softball are rebuilding this spring, but still have their sights set on contending.
Senior captain catcher Nicole Dunlop and Indians’ softball are rebuilding this spring, but still have their sights set on contending. Photo by John Vanacore/The Courier

After losing several key athletes from last year, the North Haven softball squad will feature a lot of new faces on the diamond this spring. However, even though the Indians might be in for a rebuilding season, they still want to contend for playoff berths, plus the Oronoque crown they had won in seven straight campaigns prior to last year. Coach Sally Maher feels that if her athletes improve by one percent every day, then they’ll be 100 percent better by the end of the season.

“We have a lot of pieces of the puzzle to fill and I think it is a rebuilding season, but hopefully, it’s still a contending season,” said Maher, whose team went 14-9 in 2013. “We’ll be a work in the progress for the first half of the year while we work out the bugs and then I think you’ll see a much stronger team in the second half.”

One of the biggest missing pieces of the Indians’ puzzle is senior Arianna Pustari, who was the club’s primary pitcher the last three years, but is not playing this spring due to injury. Consequently, right-handed junior Haley Arnaoutis takes over on the mound following a sophomore season in which she mostly pitched JV, yet still made her varsity mark by throwing a complete game to beat Amity. Arnaoutis, who can also play first base, will be backed up by freshman lefty Ava Mattei.

“Haley has good command of her pitches and has been staying ahead of hitters in our scrimmages,” Maher said. “She has good presence on the mound.”

Arnaoutis will be throwing to catcher Nicole Dunlop, who is captaining North Haven with fellow senior and four-year starter Brianne Melillo. Dunlop hit .348 with seven doubles, three homers, and 20 RBI last spring en route to All-Oronoque honors and a spot in the Junior All-Star Game. Center fielder Melillo also gained both those distinctions as a captain last spring while hitting .537 with six doubles, two triples, two home runs, and 21 runs scored. Melillo has made the All-Oronoque team all three years.

“Nicole and Brie have both done a great job of leading by example,” Maher said. “Nicole is a great defensive catcher with some power and Brie is one of best all-around players who can play just about anywhere we need her.”

Around the infield, Amanda Kenney is back for her third season as the starting shortstop and fellow junior Mia Martinez moves from third base to second. Juniors Victoria Bouffard and Lauren Landino are competing for the first base job and battling it out at the hot corner are sophomores Rachel Giatrelis and Rachel Card, the latter who is additionally the backup catcher.

The Indians’ also have five athletes competing for the corner outfield spots in senior Kyle Searles; junior Alyson Milone; and sophomores Antonia Barbiero, Jordyn Sheeley, and Jill Oestreicher.

The Indians’ open up their season against Law at 4 p.m. on April 9; play at Amity at 4 on Thursday, April 10; play at Career at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 12; then host Cross at 3:45 p.m. on Monday, April 14; followed by a game at Shelton at 4 on Wednesday, April 16.

“We had some tough scrimmages to try and get set up for the rigors of our schedule. We have a challenging first week with a lot of good tests so we’ll see how we handle it,” Maher said. “I think we’ll be a scrappy team this year. We were a little sloppy in the field last year and made more errors than normal so one of our goals this year is to play cleaner in the field and not have to make our pitchers get four or five outs in an inning.”

Maher has been North Haven’s head coach since the early 90s and will once again assisted by JV coach Karen Castagnola and her husband Roy Castagnola, along with Joel Kaletsky, Maher’s father Frank Maher, Vin Cretella, and a newcomer to the staff in Jen Cruver, who pitched the Indians to the Class L state championship in 2008.

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