By Greg Klein THE COOPERSTOWN CRIER
---- — Cooperstown softball had a historic year in 2013, with its first division championship, an undefeated regular season and a Section Three Class C-1 title.
After losing five starters to graduation, including Daily Star softball Player of the Year Nicole Cring, the Hawkeyes were expected to have some growing pains in 2014. Midway through the season, however, expectations have changed.
“We have a real good young team,” coach Dave Bliss said. “We’re improving every game. If we can stay focused and stay injury free, we’re going to be all right. Overall we are doing very well.”
Cooperstown has just one loss going into last night’s division showdown at Herkimer. At 11-1, 6-1, CCS needed a win over the Magicians to take the lead in the Center State Conference Division II. The Hawkeyes only loss this year came to Herkimer, 3-0, in eight innings on April 10. Since then Cooperstown has swept Little Falls, including a 10-inning 1-0 victory at home on Friday.
“We beat Herkimer in the (C-1) finals last year, 2-1,” Bliss said. “They return eight starters and we only return four, but we lost to them in extra innings.”
Freshman Maria Noto has taken over for Cring, a transition that has been seamless. Noto has already come close to a perfect game, pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Hoosick Falls and set a CCS single game record for strikeouts with 20 in the loss to Herkimer.
As the fourth CCS pitcher to train with volunteer coach Tom Weeks, Noto’s success isn’t surprising to Bliss.
“She’s been working with Coach Weeks for a while, so we kind of expected it,” Bliss said. “Maria has been doing an outstanding job. She has excellent control. For a freshman, she throws a high number of strikeouts.”
Cring – who is now pitching at Springfield College – pitched for CCS for two seasons and continued a new school tradition of breaking most of the records of the girl who stood in the circle before her. Anna Sams and Ariel Baker were the other pitchers Weeks has trained.
Baker, Weeks’ granddaughter, was the first to undergo year-round training with Weeks. Sams, a four-year starter, followed and broke most of Baker’s records. Cring followed Sams and while she did take most of the single-season records, she didn’t make enough starts to take the career records.
But with the prospect of four years in the circle for CCS, Noto has the chance to beat everyone’s pitching records.
“She has three pitches she throws down very well and a fourth that she is working on,” Bliss said. “She has a fastball, a curveball and a screwball already. She can locate all three of them well. She also has a change-up. Honestly she can throw that well too, but it is maybe a case of her having to get a little more confidence in that pitch.”
Senior shortstop Maggie Hall has been the team leader on and off the field. Hall has committed to play softball in college at Division II Bloomsberg University. She helps her team with her glove and her bat. The only problem has been getting her quality at bats.
“Maggie of course is our leader,” said Bliss, who last season called her the best position player he had ever coached. “The problem is people don’t pitch to her. They either walk her or they pitch to her very carefully.”
Once on base, however, Hall still finds ways to score runs and win games.
“She did that against Sauquoit Valley,” Bliss said about Hall’s game-winning run in a 2-1 victory on April 24. “She was hit by a pitch, stole second and took third on a passed ball. She then scored the game winner on a (double) steal.”
Junior first baseman Christina Noto and sophomore second baseman Jennifer Flynn return to give Cooperstown a solid defensive infield. Noto and Hall were both Daily Star All-Stars last season. Flynn took over as the starting second baseman last season because of an injury to Alannah Haggerty. Haggerty returned, but Flynn’s defense was so good, Haggerty got bumped to center field.
“Defensively, we’ve been very strong all the way around,” Bliss said. “We’ve had very few errors. Everybody is fielding well.”
Sophomore Carson Haney replaces Lexi Duda at third base and sophomore Alexie Tsouvas has taken over at catcher.
“Alexie has done an outstanding job for us,” Bliss said. “We knew she would do well behind the plate, but she has been hitting very well too. Carson Haney, another sophomore, has been playing very well for us too.”
In the outfield sophomore Mallory Arthurs has taken over in left field for Noelle Palmatier. Senior Catherine Borgstrom, who often played designated hitter last season, has taken over center field for Haggerty, and is also batting clean-up behind Hall. In right field, Ellen Vibbard has returned from a torn ACL suffered during soccer season.
With two freshman playing key roles and four sophomores starting, Cooperstown has a young core. As the season goes on, and opposition pitching gets better, scoring runs will be one of the biggest challenges, but Bliss said that so far the offense has been good. Hall is slugging in the .800s, she and Christina Noto are leading the team in batting average and Tousvas, Borgstrom and Flynn are doing well getting on base and scoring runs.
The switch from Division III to Division II takes Cooperstown away from Class D powerhouse Hamilton, but brings multiple rivals in Little Falls and Herkimer.
"I think this division is tougher," Bliss said. "You've got Little Falls and Herkimer and even West Canada Valley is very good."
The top teams in the division will move on to compete with Weedsport and defending champ Sandy Creek for the section title.
"I think those are the teams you're looking at," Bliss said. "Sandy Creek, Weedsport, Herkimer. If we keep improving, and we have been improving every game, then that's who we'll have to play."