By Sam Wilson

Coach Matt Finn said it’s a young team, but that hasn’t stopped Ellicottville softball from a strong start to the season with a 3-1 record through the first week of games.

The Eagles return four starters — senior shortstop Evie Cortez, senior first baseman Sarah Sheffield, junior second baseman Linnea Jimerson and sophomore pitcher Allison Przywara — but Finn said the team’s five new starters are off to a solid start.

“We’re actually not doing too bad,” Finn said of his new starters. “We are pretty young in a lot of different positions, but the nice thing is they have a lot of experience. Some of these girls, like (sophomore infielders) Cam Early and Makenna Smith, they play in these travel leagues. Allison Przywara, she’s been playing in travel leagues. They’re actually getting more softball experience outside of March to May, which is very helpful.”

Cortez, a fifth-year starter, and Sheffield, a third year starter, earned co-captain honors.

“This year I went, ‘You two in particular, you’ve been with us the longest, I’d really like you two to lead us on a path that you want to go to,” Finn said. “Because if you lead us in the right direction, they will follow.’ That’s what we’re hoping.”

The Eagles opened the season with a win over Clymer, 4-3, and a loss to Panama, 10-1, before sweeping Salamanca in a doubleheader Saturday, 5-0 and 9-1.

“Overall I’m pretty pleased,” Finn said. “Panama, our loss, they’re fantastic. They’re just so good, and they’d be somebody we’d meet in the playoffs so it just shows that we have a lot of work to do. But it’s off to a fun start so far.”

Cortez recently announced she will continue her softball career at Niagara University. Finn marveled at her development and evolution as a player over five varsity seasons.

“It’s funny because five years ago she was going to be our starting pitcher and she became a shortstop,” he said. “To watch her progress, when I first met her she when she played Little League, she was a right-handed batter also. Over the past few years she developed into a left-handed hitter and this year she’s working on being a slapper. It’s been fun to watch her go through the changes.”

The team has nine seniors, Cortez, Sheffield, Halie Mowery (OF), Lisa Krotz (C), Janel Stuve (OF), Ashley Laudisio (2B), Tomara Bowen (P) and Emily Durrandetto (C). Jimerson, Hannah Delity (1B), Sierra Maybee (C/3B), Malorie Chamberlain (2B), Camryn Phinney (C), Paisley Farnham (OF) and Rachel Frascella (2B) are the team’s seven juniors.

As encouraging as the 3-1 start is, Finn knows his team needs to improve offensively over the course of the season to compete against the top teams in its league and the Section 6 Class D playoffs.

“I feel like we’ve got to do a better job putting the bat on the ball,” he said. We haven’t had a ton of strikeouts but the Panama pitcher was probably the caliber of pitcher we’ll see most this year and we did strike out nine times against her. Granted, she’s only a freshman but she’s one of the better 14 year olds in the area, but still we’ve got to do a better job putting the ball in play.

“When we play against (Franklinville’s) Ally Haskell and North Collins and Pine Valley and Frewsburg, they’re all going to have pitchers and we’ve got to be able to just make them play defense. When it comes to our defense, I’ve been very happy. Our errors are way down from previous years. The girls know where they’re supposed to be and they’re getting to their spots. They’re doing a real nice job defensively so if we can just amp up our contact with the ball, I think we could have a pretty good season.”