Western Wayne's varsity softball squad is ready to challenge in 2018
When Joe Romanowski took over the Western Wayne softball program, he made several bold promises.
The first … the hallmark of Wildcat teams that won league and district championships during his tenure as head baseball coach … was an emphasis on hard work, hustle and sound fundamentals.
The second … which can sometimes be a tough sell on the local scene … was a brutally objective honesty when evaluating talent.
“The best kids are going to play,” he said bluntly. “I don't care if they're seniors or freshmen. I'm not afraid of playing underclassmen if it's in the best interest of the team and the program.”
True to his word, Coach Romanowski packed last year's varsity softball line-up with talented youngsters.
And, although wins were tough to come by in the always-rugged Lackawanna League, a solid foundation was laid for a successful diamond future.
With players like Makenzie Rose, Vaeda Pontosky, Katelin Dennis, Alexandra Gravine and Rachel Butler leading the way, Western Wayne has a legitimate shot at challenging for a divisional title this spring.
On Thursday afternoon, one could already begin to see that his philosophy is already beginning to pay tangible dividends.
The Lady 'Cats were out on the field-turf, sprinting their way through a slick, clean, disciplined practice.
Smiling players bounced from station to station and drill to drill. Shouts of excitement and encouragement could be heard all around.
“They're great kids,” said Coach Romanowski, arms crossed and a wry smile on his face. “I love working with them.”
The Lady 'Cats limped home to a 1-12 league mark last spring, finishing in a tie for last place with Honesdale in Division II.
Nevertheless, the grizzled, veteran skipper is genuinely excited about his team's prospects this season. In fact, when asked about his predictions for the 2018 season, he replied: “We're gonna win 'em all.”
Admittedly, that seems a bit unlikely. However, a scenario in which Western Wayne cracks .500, competes with the elite teams and makes a run at districts really isn't so far-fetched.
Wallenpaupack Area and Delaware Valley finished in a dead heat atop the standings at 9-4, while North Pocono was third at 8-5. None of those teams was dominant and each suffered a significant loss to graduation.
If the Lady 'Cat youth movement continues to thrive, a significant rise in the rankings is possible.
In the Circle
While Western Wayne's roster is packed with talent Coach Romanowski singled out several girls who are expected to play major roles on the field this spring.
Makenzie Rose will be at the front of the rotation this season. Just a sophomore, Rose is a hard-throwing righty who also boasts an array of breaking pitches.
Western Wayne hit the road Wednesday for a non-league game at Wyoming Valley West. It was the first time the Lady 'Cats had been on a diamond in a competitive situation.
Despite cold and rainy conditions, Rose authored a solid performance in the circle. She went the distance, pitching seven innings and earning high marks from her mentor.
“Makenzie did a really nice job,” said Coach Romanowski. “She struggled a little bit early on with control, but I'm pleased that her velocity was just as good in the seventh as in in the first.”
The Lady 'Cat backed their ace with some timely hitting and solid defense.
“We hit the ball hard and played well in the field,” said Coach Romanowski. “We made a couple of mental mistakes that ended up costing us runs, but we learned from it.
“Overall, I think we played well. West already had five games under their belt and that was our first. So, I'm happy.”
On the Field
While Rose was finding her way in the circle, her teammates were starting to relax and deliver.
Gravine is just a frosh, but already seems to have carved out a spot for herself in the varsity line-up.
Alex will play shortstop and may even pitch a bit. But, it's her hitting ability that's already turning heads. Gravine ripped a double and a triple at Valley West, sure signs that she won't be overwhelmed.
“Alex is going to be a dynamite player,” said Coach Romanowski. “She can really swing the bat and she works very hard. I'm expecting big things from Alex over the next few years.”
Pontosky anchors the infield at third base. A junior who's been starting for three years, Vaeda has improved by leaps and bounds defensively.
“Vaeda is just an overall great kid,” said Coach Romanowski. “She's a tough kid, too. Vaeda has taken some real shots there at third over the years and never blinked. She's going to have a big year.”
Dennis is a senior who's coming back to the team after a season off. Katelin is already developing a nice rapport with Rose and the rest of the pitching staff.
“Katelin does her job, but she's always looking to help out the younger kids, too. Katelin is a leader and that's exactly what we need from our senior catcher.”
Butler is a junior who's made a name for herself in left field. Rachel covers a lot of ground, but also boasts a cannon-like arm.
She banged out a pair of hits at Valley West and turned in an impressive performance in the outfield.
“Rachel will be one of the keys to our success,” Coach Romanowski said.
“We batted her fourth the other day and she looked really good. If she keeps hitting line that, then we're going to be in great shape.”