Watts poised to lead Fitch squad | News, Sports, Jobs

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan Austintown Fitch freshman pitcher Sydnie Watts throws a pitch Tuesday afternoon during a scrimmage against South Range.

AUSTINTOWN – It’s not easy to replace a senior ace in the circle, but Austintown Fitch softball has a talented freshman ready to step into the role.

Gone is Lydia Spalding, who led the Falcons to a district final last year and is now pitching at Penn State, but freshman Sydnie Watts is prepared to follow in her stead and help lead Fitch into a new season.

“It’s definitely different,” Watts said of the adjustment to high school softball. “I have to push myself way harder because Lydia did amazing things and I know I have to play up to those expectations.”

Watts is one part of a Falcons squad that wants to get back to challenge for a district title again and, perhaps, make a run beyond that.

“Since they’re in the same spot, you’re always going to get comparisons,” Fitch head coach Steven Ward said of Watts and Spalding. “Sydnie steps right in and has the same beginnings of maturity and the same stepping stones. Plus, she has a great squad around her that Lydia got to grow around as well, so it’s been a smooth transition with her having an experienced team behind her. “

“Our infield is all returning and we have one person in the outfield returning and two new ones battling it out. So, we’ll have an experienced defense behind (Watts), which as a freshman, is a great thing to have those with some experience behind you. “

While Spalding is a big loss as a pitcher and as a hitter with a .656 average, Fitch returns no shortage of offense up-and-down its lineup.

Sophomore shortstop Ayla Ray will again feature atop the order for the Falcons. She batted .500 last season as a freshman and Ward reckons that she’ll end up being a prime Division I college prospect in a couple years.

Sophomore Bella Tofil also returns after batting .400 last year. She was second on the team in RBIs and tied for second on the team in triples and home runs. Fitch’s home run leader from last season, Sophia Senediak, also returns as a senior after batting 0.438.

“Every kid has a major role to play on this team, and I don’t say that lightly – from running bases to getting a pinch hit to cheering in the dugout and being out on the field – everybody has a strong value with us, “ Ward said.

But the heart and soul of the team this season will be senior Maddy Taylor. As a junior, Taylor had the most at-bats on the team and led the Falcons in RBIs and doubles, while being second on the team in home runs. Taylor is also signed to continue her softball career at the next level at Seton Hill University.

“I think we have a little bit of a stronger offense this year, I would say, even defense honestly,” Taylor said. “We had some great seniors last year, but it’s a new team.”

Ward and his coaching staff give their players a certain degree of freedom when they’re on the field.

Knowing that a number of players will continue to play at the collegiate level, in order to prepare them for that, Ward prefers a more hands-off approach to allow the Falcons to make the reads and decisions that they deem fit on the fly.

A prime example of this came in the early innings of a preseason scrimmage against South Range on Tuesday. Ray noticed that a Raider outfielder bobbled a ball and so she was able to safely steal third base after timing her run correctly.

“You won’t see me give a lot of signs on third base,” Ward said. “We expect the players to read the defense and make their own calls. They have complete freedom to see something and go after it and our coaching staff trusts them and they trust us. It’s a beautiful thing when it works perfectly. “

The Falcons want to try to get back to districts and Taylor hopes they can go further, but in order to do that, it all starts with execution, according to Ward.

“We have to be able to score runs in a timely manner – we have to lay bunts down, get on base, we have to start rallies and we have to finish when people are on base,” Ward said. “That’s always a thing that great teams will do. Great teams will find a way to produce runs. That’s something we’re going to have to figure out along the way and I believe this team can do it, and if they do, they’re going to be a special team. “

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