September 26, 2017

Softball turnaround

Kiley Mclure makes a solid back-handed block of a pitch in the dirt during CVU's game versus Mount Mansfield on Thursday, May 4th in Hinesburg.

Kiley Mclure makes a solid back-handed block of a pitch in the dirt during CVU’s game versus Mount Mansfield on Thursday, May 4th in Hinesburg.

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

When the Champlain Valley Union High School softball team celebrated a win last week, there was a little something extra in the post-game huddle.

That win — their fourth of the season — meant that the Redhawks softball program was, finally, turning it around.

“I think that was when it kind of hit us, we are stronger this year,” said CVU senior Natalie Gagnon. “We have all come in with a more confident outlook.”

The 13-9 victory over Mount Mansfield moved CVU to 4-4 this season, surpassing last year’s win total only halfway through the season.

The team, with a 6-5 record, has just three games remaining, with a chance to accomplish something the program hasn’t had in 12 years: a winning record.

The Redhawks haven’t had a winning season since 2005, when they went 12-4 and only had one non-losing season in the 12 years since, an 8-8 campaign in 2008. The program captured three wins in 2016 and 2015 and just one win in 2014.

All that meant to the CVU coaching staff and players was that there was room for improvement.

“There was already a good level of talent here,” said first-year coach Mike Sullivan. “It’s been creating a more competitive focus.”

Brown took over the team this season, after spending seven years as the coach at Vergennes Union High School and immediately looked to get to know his players and instill the fundamentals of softball.

“I think Coach Mike has brought a sense of togetherness to the team,” said CVU senior Hattie Roberts. “He appreciates everyone for what they have. He tries to utilize people’s strengths.”

Shayla Lawrence fouls off a bunt attempt during CVU's game with Essex on Saturday the 13th in Essex

Shayla Lawrence fouls off a bunt attempt during CVU’s game with Essex on Saturday the 13th in Essex

Coming from a program in Vergennes that had success under his tenure there, Sullivan also brought a change in attitude.

“He has made us realize that we need to take it more seriously,” Gagnon said. “Because of our previous record, people maybe weren’t playing to their full potential.

“He has made us feel more confident. It’s a power boost for all of us.”

The team, despite limited outdoor practices due to the rainy weather, has found their rhythm at the plate — CVU has scored 10 or more runs in three of its wins — and is getting solid pitching from Roberts.

“We are making contact with the ball in every game,” Gagnon said. “I think we are all upping each others’ games.”

With the wins has come a renewed confidence on the field, the players said.

“It’s apparent that they are having fun,” Sullivan said. “It’s apparent that they are liking what’s going on, you can see that.”

Nothing showcased that increased believability more than the team’s 14-13 victory over St. Johnsbury. CVU trailed 11-2 after the third inning, but kept chipping away before taking the lead in the bottom of the seventh to come out on top.

“We’ve proven, even in the games that we have lost, that we have the skills to come back,” Roberts said.

With the first half of the season behind them and a .500 record to show for it, the Redhawks have started to set their goals a little higher: a home playoff game.

“It’s a small goal,but it’s still big at the same time,” Roberts said. “It’s a good goal for us.”

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