Softball’s Seniors Enjoy Strong Final Season, But Fall Short in Playoffs

Keeliey+Zompetti+throws+a+ball+to+Haley+Gaffney+during+practice.+%7C+by+Dakota+Antelman
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Softball’s Seniors Enjoy Strong Final Season, But Fall Short in Playoffs

Keeliey Zompetti throws a ball to Haley Gaffney during practice. | by Dakota Antelman

Keeliey Zompetti throws a ball to Haley Gaffney during practice. | by Dakota Antelman

Keeliey Zompetti throws a ball to Haley Gaffney during practice. | by Dakota Antelman

Keeliey Zompetti throws a ball to Haley Gaffney during practice. | by Dakota Antelman

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by Dakota Antelman

As the softball seniors stepped off the field in Worcester last month, they wept for the end of their high school career. These seniors had led their team to their best season since 2013. But they had fallen short in just their second playoff game, ending their hopes to bring home the state title that they had long sought.

Stephanie Hamilton, a senior captain for the softball team, says that before this season got underway, she and her fellow seniors did not know what to expect of their team.

At first glance, the seniors had reason to be wary. Two members of current senior class did not return for the season. Maddie Haufe, whose offensive success had helped Hudson qualify for the playoffs in 2015, was out for the season with an injured shoulder. Coach Mary Beth Cashman had given starting pitching duties to freshman Sophia Togneri. Few had seen her pitch, and she had never played for the varsity team before.

Within a week of opening day, however, the tone for Hudson softball changed. The Hawks won the Cheryl Jones tournament on a walk-off in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Hudson beat Nashoba twice in less than a week. The Hawks soared to the top of the standings and hung with Groton Dunstable for the remainder of the year. The mediocre team that Hamilton and her fellow seniors expected had suddenly turned into a formidable playoff contender and the seniors were front and center.

“We thought, ‘Let’s just have a really awesome time’ because we thought we wouldn’t win,” explained Hamilton.

Reflecting on how and why the Hawks got so good so fast, Coach Cashman cites the dual successes of Togneri in the circle and the seniors as leaders.

“They really grew each year in their leadership, their ability to deal with younger players and their ability to respond to coaches,” Cashman said of the seniors. “They dealt with situations on the team because no team is perfect. There are going to be situations where kids are struggling and need help from captains or seniors, and I think they just grew tremendously in that role.”

A key part of the seniors’ leadership in 2016 was a refusal to give up in difficult situations for the team. The seniors instituted a “10 Second Rule,” which allowed players to be mad because of a play on the field for 10 seconds. After the 10 seconds passed, however, it was time to refocus on the game.

“When we were down last year, we would give up,” shortstop Keeliey Zompetti said of the rule. “This year we have worked hard to come back and never give up.”

By May, the Hawks had clinched a playoff spot. Furthermore, their potent combination of defense and an explosive offense seemed to hint at an extended playoff run that the seniors had never been a part of before. In spite of all of their success as a class, the seniors had not even won a playoff game since their freshman year. The 2016 season became a tense last hurrah for what Coach Cashman described as a “special group” of players in the senior class.

Cashman has a long history with the current seniors, coaching them when they were on the eighth grade team five seasons ago. That year, the eighth grade team, which on some occasions played and won games with too few players, drew the attention of HHS varsity coaches who Cashman says were “salivating on the sidelines” at the success of the team.

Haley Gaffney looks back at Stephanie Hamilton as she catches a ball at practice. Gaffney and Hamilton have played together since first grade. | by Dakota Antelman

Haley Gaffney looks back at Stephanie Hamilton as she catches a ball at practice. Gaffney and Hamilton have played together since first grade. | by Dakota Antelman

“I do remember that we were pretty good,” current varsity captain Haley Gaffney says. “I remember [assistant coach] Ray [Girard] coming over and watching our practices. He was leaving the varsity practices and coming to watch us.”

Cashman was promoted to the role of varsity coach the next year and carried her former eighth grade team with her to the varsity roster. Haley Gaffney, Keeley Zompetti, Keaton Preshaw and Stephanie Hamilton all played during their freshman year and quickly became integral parts of Hudson softball.  

But Hudson never won another playoff game between 2013 and 2016. Though they were perennial contenders, Hudson was repeatedly knocked out early in the playoffs or late in the regular season. As juniors, the current senior class was on the field when Hudson was eliminated from the playoffs on a walk off home run in the district quarterfinal game against Tantasqua last spring.

In 2016, the seniors sought to avenge the loss to Tantasqua and do what they had never done before — win a state championship.

The afternoon before the district semifinals against Doherty, the seniors were loud and happy as they rehashed their season and set lofty goals for the rest of the playoffs.

“We want to win a state championship,” Gaffney said at one point only to be interrupted by Zompetti.

“Start with districts and then get to states,” Zompetti asserted.

The Hawks did neither.

For the senior class that had dedicated itself to the softball team, that had sought the state championship that past HHS softball teams had won, a 3-0 loss to Doherty in Worcester solicited a cascade of tears. The whole team cried as they huddled in the outfield to hear Coach Cashman make a postgame speech to them. Cashman says she had little to say but to offer her condolences to the seniors for whom the semifinals would be their final game.

“I don’t know how to coach without them,” Cashman said roughly 45 minutes later, after getting off the bus back in Hudson. The team quietly filed out of the bus behind her as she said this, many still crying and hugging one another.

For her entire career as a varsity coach Cashman has, in fact, never had to coach without the seniors. Likewise, in their five years in the HHS softball program, the seniors always had Cashman as their coach.

“She’s tough on us, but at the same time she’s really nice, if that makes sense,” Gaffney said at a practice before the Doherty game, pointing towards Maddie Haufe who was standing in right field with a glove and an array of softballs around her. “Basically she will do anything for you, like right now she’s giving extra balls to Maddie. She’ll never give up on us.”

Cashman acknowledges the rarity of an entire grade having this much success. She adds that the reason for that success is the seniors’ unity and commitment, something that never wavered, even when the Hawks were down to their final out of their playoff game vs. Doherty.

“What it says is that competition is more important than anything else that is going on,” Cashman says. “Your personal life; you put it behind you. Differences in opinion; you put it behind you. Schoolwork; you put it behind you. When you step on that diamond, softball is the most important thing. That’s a testament to the seniors for being able to shut everything down and make that possible for two hours.”