Lancers relying on youth movement to carry on tradition

Norwich - Thanks to graduation, it is an era of change in Waterford: no Alyssa Hancock at the top of the lineup, no Kelli Connors either, on the pitching mound or in mid-batting order.

And so coach Liz Sutman was in search of a top of the order to hit in front of bashers Elaina Sullivan (.365, 25 RBI last year) and Katelyn Haff (.477, 33 RBI).

Introducing freshmen Sara Buscetto and Claire Hurley and sophomore Jodi Weiss.

Weiss, last year's junior varsity shortstop, went 4-for-6 in Monday's 16-1 rout of Norwich Free Academy, the day the Lancers began defense of their Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division title.

The trio of underclassmen, hitting in the top three spots, was on base eight times and scored five runs. Waterford (1-1, 1-0) finished with 20 hits and took advantage of five NFA errors.

"It's just the beginning. We're starting to mesh," said Weiss, who replaced Hancock, the all-stater, at shortstop. "We're all calm and doing our best."

Sutman wasn't entirely calm after a 4-2 season-opening loss Friday to North Kingtown, R.I. But with a young team, and seniors which had never been in a leadership position before, she was excited to see the improvements in game two.

Waterford began doing the little things right in the first inning, getting a scratch single by Hurley and another single by Weiss that went off the pitcher's glove. Two NFA errors and a slap single by Sullivan later and the Lancers led 2-0.

Haff added four hits and Waterford continued to build on its lead, scoring two in the third, fourth and fifth, three in the sixth and five in the seventh.

The Lancers' victory came despite a recent injury to starting pitcher Megan Spellman, in line to replace Connors - last year's Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year - before she was hit in the pitching hand by a pitch in a recent scrimmage. Spellman was diagnosed with a chip fracture and said to be sidelined for one to two weeks, though Sutman wants her healthy for the long run.

Tori VanCleave, a sophomore left-hander, and freshman righty Kazi Walker split the pitching duties, allowing five hits. Walker retired NFA in order in the sixth and seventh, allowing one hit in three innings of relief.

"Am I disappointed with our effort? Absolutely," said NFA coach Bryan Burdick, whose team had gotten off to a solid start, combining for 24 runs in wins over Griswold and Plainfield.

"We're a better team than we played like today. (Waterford) is not as dominant, but they still got the job done. It's like the kids said, 'That's not Kelli, so we should be able to get the job done,' but we didn't get the job done. I don't know what team was out there. It was not a team I've seen this year."

Waterford batted around in the sixth and seventh.

The Lancers were 24-2 last season, winning the ECC Large, ECC tournament and reaching the Class M semifinals.

Weiss was asked what the team was doing differently than Friday, when it lacked the punch it showed Monday.

"Breathing," she said with a smile. "My mom tells me to breathe."

Said Sutman: "We need some runs to get something going, then everyone feeds off that positive energy."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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