Tigers start spring with youngest softball team in six years
© Culpeper TimesPlenty of ink during the last two years has gone to informing the public about how the opening of Patriot High School in Nokesville in 2011 affected sports teams at Brentsville District High School in the more rural part of town.
If none of that really made the point though, consider the Tigers' softball team to be Exhibit A.
First, note the word "team": there is no junior varsity squad this year.
Next, there are three veterans left: a junior and two seniors.
Joining them are seven freshmen and two sophomores.
Long-time assistant coach Pat Finnigan talked about the state of Brentsville softball during an interview on Sunday, striking an upbeat tone as he acknowledged the reality of starting no fewer than four freshmen in his line-up.
In fact, it's been since the the 2007 season that Brentsville's fielded a team so reliant on rookies to make an impact.
"It's pretty similar," said Finnigan, who's been with the team since 2002. "I think it's even better this time because we have a lot of players that have developed playing travel ball. They have good experience and they're coming in ready to go."
Like the 2007 team, two of those rookies, Krista Panone and Kayla Nadeau, can expect to see time in the pitcher's circle.
Both are veteran travel ball players but, according to Finnigan, pitching hasn't been their primary responsibility recently.
Panone has a history with two of the most highly regarded travel teams in Northern Virginia, as a member of the Manassas Blaze 18U Elite team this year after playing for the Virginia Shamrocks' 14U and 12U teams and other Blaze teams prior to that.
Nearly four years ago, she caught the attention of this paper as a 10U member of the Blaze for having an on-base percentage around .800 during the summer season of 2009.
Though Finnigan described Panone as a quick learner, he added that he and head coach Amy Beard "just want her to get it across the plate.
"I don't know if she has many pitches," said Finnigan. "It's a work in progress. Amy's been working hard with her."
What that likely means for opposing teams is that Panone and Nadeau are likely set to deliver a steady selection of fastballs and change ups.
"We're going to have to rely a lot on our defense," said Finnigan.
That's where Brentsville mixes youth with experience.
At catcher, freshman McKenzie Bailey comes from the same Marsteller program that produced Nadeu and won the middle school's Western Regional championship in 2012.
Bailey played catcher as a travel ball player though Finnigan said he suspected third base is "probably her best position."
"She's got a very good arm," said the coach, noting that she could throw the ball from the centerfield fence to first base on the fly.
The freshman comes from a softball family too.
Her dad Tom coached the Blaze and her older sister Brittany Bailey earned all-region honors twice for the Tigers, also claiming three trips to the All-Northwestern District team between 2003 to 2006, including the Player of the Year title as a senior, according to her 2010 player profile from Coastal Carolina University.
As a pitcher, Brittany Bailey struck out more than 500 batters and tossed multiple no-hitters, once mowing down 21 out of 22 batters in a 1-0 victory while "suffering from allergies and an upset stomach," according to the Washington Post.
What that means for Brentsville is even with an all-freshman battery, the rookie Tigers are at least familiar with varsity-level competition just from their backgrounds alone.
Backing them up in the infield are veterans Haleigh Kilby at shortstop and Jessica Murphy at third base.
Kilby, a junior, is one of several multi-sport athletes on the team, having played volleyball during the fall and basketball in the winter.
She stands out among others though as she's generally the best player on any of her teams.
For example, she led the basketball team with an average of 15 points per game this past season, sinking 34 3-pointers and 100 foul shots in the process.
No one else came close to her numbers.
"At Brentsville these days, you have to play a lot of different sports because we're so small," said Finnigan.
Meanwhile, the senior Murphy joins Kilby in the line-up as the primary power hitters for the Tigers.
Freshman Lexi Magruder also has pop in her bat, having smacked a ball to the base of the fence in right-centerfield during a scrimmage this pre-season, according to Finnigan.
Magruder comes from the Virginia Crushers '99 14U team after moving up from the Fauquier Freeze 12U White squad.
She can expect to see time at both first and second base, along with utility infielder Julia LaRose and whichever of the pitchers are off the rubber each game.
Senior Haley Lugiano is the other veteran on the team, having played all around the infield and outfield throughout her high school and travel career.
Lugiano is also member of the elite 18U Gold Blaze team.
Two sophomores outfielders, Emily Mussleman and Colleen Lamoureux are up from the 2012 junior varsity team and are likely to share time with freshmen Jessica Baker and Chelsea Hugh.
"All of the freshmen have come in with really good experience. They're going to be very strong," said Finnigan. "They're going to be capable this year but we're really looking forward to having them for four years because they're going to be very strong."