READING — After two straight years of 11 or 12 wins and an early post-season exit, the Reading High softball team is now facing the challenge of trying to improve on those win totals this season.

This does not figure to be easy after the Lady Rockets lost six players to graduation, and had a surprising low turnout for the program at tryouts.

Reading (11-10 in 2017) returns nine players from last year, but just has four seniors. And despite just 33 players out for this year’s squad, the Lady Rockets are hoping for more quality with the players despite not having quantity.

“I feel we will have fun since we have a lot of young kids, including three freshman, so it will be interesting for us early in the season,” said 22nd-year head coach Jill McElroy (345-129 career record). “Since we have a lot of talented young players we will be doing some things differently this year. We’re going to try to capitalize on their talent that we hope will make us a better team as we go along.”

A big spot the Lady Rockets have quality depth is pitcher. While the team lost one starting pitcher Taylor Perillo from last year, it still returns three other pitchers who all earned time within the circle.

This trio includes senior captain Kalli Doherty, junior captain Emily Eagleston, and sophomore Tatiana Burcy. McElroy has not yet settled on a definite No. 1 starter, but indicated all three could pitch several games this season.

“All three pitchers are still competing, and Kalli (Doherty) is a senior but she got hurt and missed playing a lot last year so this is going to be a big season for her,” said McElroy. “With Emily (Eagleston) we expect what we got from her last year, and she’s improving and perfecting her pitches the best she can. Tatiana (Burcy) is still just a sophomore so I’m not sure what we will get from her, but I know she has a lot of speed but will need to get her control in check.”

At catcher, McElroy has not settled on a definite starter but indicated three players are competing for the starting role. They include junior Katherine Fichera, who was the back up last year, along with two sophomore newcomers, Natalia Sosa and Abigail Hurley.

The Lady Rockets have three returnees who provide experience to their infield. At first base is junior captain Holly Gilson, who played in a back-up role there last year, and is now competing for the starting role, along with sophomore newcomer Isabella Naumann.

“Holly (Gilson) gives everything she can on the field, and as a junior who was elected captain. She knows the game so well she wants to play it in college,” said McElroy. “She always plays with a hard effort, and we expect big things out of her both as a hitter and as a fielder.”

Over at second base three players are competing for the starting role. Senior captain Catherine Weber took over the starting role last year and did a fine job fielding and hitting. Also competing to play at second base include sophomore newcomer Jill O’Neil, and Doherty when she’s not pitching.

“Catherine (Weber) is a captain as well and she got off to a great start with a phenomenal first half last year,” said McElroy. “We’re hoping that she continues that this year with a great first and second half, and that’s she’s more consistent throughout the whole season.”

On the infield’s left side, another experienced infielder, senior Gianna Carciero, is competing for the starting role at shortstop. Carciero played in a back-up role there last year and will likely be the starter this year. Freshman Alexis Burnham and Burcy could also see some playing time at shortstop as well.

“Gianna (Carciero) can play shortstop and now just needs to gain more confidence mentally,” said McElroy. “So far this year Gianna has showed us she’s putting forth a lot of effort into her mental game, and we’re hoping that everything clicks for her this year.”

The spot that’s wide open in the infield is at third base. Among the players competing for the starting role are sophomore newcomer Kailey Tango and freshman Danielle Percy, while Burnham could also play there as well.

With the loss of two outfielders from last year the Lady Rockets are less experienced. Three newcomers and two pitchers are competing for the three outfield spots. There is one returnee, senior Maggie Fennelly, who was a back-up outfielder last year.

The newcomers include sophomore Anna Bowen, freshman Taylor Holmes, and O’Neil, while Doherty and Burcy could also play in the outfield when either one is not pitching.

“Maggie (Fennelly) tries her hardest all the time and really knows the game,” said McElroy. “She didn’t get a lot of playing time last year but hopefully she will play more this year. She wants to play and tries her best every day, and that’s what we expect from her this year.”

The key for the Lady Rockets will likely be how well the young players fit into their roles and fulfill their potential as the season progresses.

“I feel how well we do will depend on our nerves since we have a young team with only four seniors,” said McElroy. “It will be a matter of how well we can get by being nervous. If they do then I feel we will do very well, but if they don’t then it will be more of a struggle. I feel the second half of the season will be the better half of our season.”

The Lady Rockets are scheduled to begin their regular season with two non-league games this week, at North Reading on Wednesday and at Concord-Carlisle on Friday. Both are slated for 3:45 p.m.

Reading will begin league play on Thursday, April 12 when it hosts Wakefield at (3:45 p.m.).

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