SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 11, 2014

Fast Pitches: McBride, a guiding force for Danvers

Fast Pitches
Gianna Addario

---- — It’s understandable why spectators have a tendency to key in on the pitcher during a softball game. The eye-catching windup and art of the quick release are usually the most interesting actions happening on the field during a seven inning contest.

Most folks don’t seem to notice what the catcher is doing, unless it’s necessary for an in-game conference with the pitcher.

But a team’s catcher is much more than just a target for the pitcher to throw to. More often than not, coaches have the utmost confidence in their backstops to keep the game in control and keep the players on the field involved.

It’s also the job of most catchers to keep their pitcher calm and, more importantly, call the game. Coaches have the same confidence in their catchers to call the correct pitches as catchers do in their pitchers to throw the correct pitch.

“Catchers are the backbone of the defense,” said Beverly head coach Megan Sudak, a former catcher for the Panthers. “They can make or break a game. They see the game from the closest view as the coaches do because they face the other direction than everyone else. They should be efficient as well as motivating, in terms of knowing their pitcher and understanding how to motivate the infield.”

Danvers junior Caitlin McBride just started her second season behind the plate. As a freshman she started at third base for the Falcons before behind the dish a year ago, catching all 21 of her team’s games.

During her time at third base she watched then-teammate and three-year starting catcher Sam DiBella (now at Endicott College) progress into a leader on the field. Now a leader and captain for the Falcons herself, McBride had a chance a to develop her arm by constantly throwing from third base to first on routine grounders, which now helps with throwing out baserunners who are trying to steal.

Already two games into the season, McBride has shown extreme poise and growth with her battermate, Falcons ace pitcher Kendall Meehan. In her second year as the starting catcher, McBride has earned the right to call the games herself.

“There’s definitely a little added pressure. It’s my first year calling the games, but it’s an honor to do it,” noted McBride.

When Wednesday’s game against Swampscott was tied in the top of seventh, McBride and Meehan communicated their way out of bases-loaded situation. McBride understood the necessity to keep her defense calm and pitcher alert during a critical point in the game.

”We wouldn’t have her do it if we didn’t have the confidence in her,” Danvers coach Tara Petrocelli said of having McBride call the game. “She knows what’s working and what isn’t. We talk every single inning about what’s going on, so we’re all on the same page. She’s earned that ability and we’re going to give her that.”

A three-sport athlete, McBride has a natural leadership gene. You can hear her from the dugout cheering on her teammates when they’re up at bat.

Her offense has also been stellar over the past few seasons, finishing with a team-high .667 batting average while picking up a Northeastern Conference all-star nod last year.

”Mechanically, Caitlin is unbelievable behind the dish,” noted Sudak. “She reads batters well, has a gun for an arm, blocks fluidly— it comes naturally to her. Not to mention, her bat is deadly.”

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Speaking of catchers, Pingree has the luxury of rotating between two different starting catchers — senior Jill Witwicki and junior Kelsey Dion. Witwicki is a three-time Eastern Independent League all-star, while Dion picked up an honorable mention nod last year.

”Having a strong catcher is equally important as having a good starting pitcher, especially as many teams like to play ‘small ball’ in our (Eastern Independent) League,” noted Pingree coach Jim MacLaughlin. “Both Jill and Kelsey are not only excellent at calling the game for the pitcher, but also at directing our defense for a given situation.”

Last year Witwicki led the Highlanders in RBIs, while Dion was the team leader in homers.

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Marblehead avenged its tournament loss from last year with a big 8-1 victory over Newburyport four days ago.

Last season the Magicians were upended by the Clippers at home, 3-1, dashing their chances of advancing in the postseason. This time around Marblehead not only wants back in the postseason, but will be looking for its tournament win since 2011.

This week has been, and will continue to be, especially challenging for the Magicians, who play four games in five days and because of a rainout Tuesday. Today’s game against Gloucester will be its third in three days.

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Former Salem News Player of the Year Taylor Ahearn is lighting it up one the mound for Curry College this spring. The former Bishop Fenwick standout has a 10-2 record, which accounts for more than half of the Colonels’ wins this spring.

In the 83 innings Ahearn has pitched, the junior has allowed 58 hits and 22 runs. Along with her 0.92 ERA, the Salem native earned 86 strikeouts.

Ahearn was co-MVP her senior at Bishop Fenwick after going 17-5 with a 1.07 ERA. She struck out 194, walked just 27 in 151 innings and allowed only 84 hits all year.

Ahearn went 10-8 as a freshman at Curry and 8-8 in 2013. She’s already matched her career high in wins this season with 14 games to go.

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Four of our area teams — Danvers, Beverly, Marblehead and Salem — all got wins in their respective season openers.

While Danvers and Marblehead both had winning records in 2013, it’s great to see Beverly and Salem get off on the right foot. The Witches got an impressive 5-4 victory over Triton Monday, the same day the Panthers put up eight runs against Malden.

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Fast Pitches, a column on North Shore high school softball, runs every Friday during the spring season in The Salem News. Contact Gianna Addario at GAddario@salemnews.com, 978-338-2615 and follow her on Twitter @GiannaAddarioSN.