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Delayed season will affect softball teams

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At this time a year ago, the Copenhagen softball team was one-third of the way through its season.

As of this morning, the team has stepped on a softball field just twice this year.

Frontier League softball teams are in the infancy stages of what will be one of the most frantic and interesting seasons in recent memory due to the lingering winter weather forcing a condensed, four-week regular season schedule.

A slew of rainouts on Tuesday and Wednesday will further complicate matters.

The league playoffs were canceled two weeks ago in anticipation of a late rush to make up games, and most teams have had their entire nonleague schedule wiped out.

According to league coaches, there is a plethora of ways in which the compacted schedule will affect teams all season long. Here are some of what they believe will have the biggest impact:

Sectionals: Entering Wednesday, six league teams had yet to play a game this season and Sandy Creek is the only team to have played more than once.

Several Syracuse-area schools — which league teams must play in the Section 3 playoffs — are already six or seven games in.

“It will hurt those teams making sectionals, playing against teams that have played more games,” Immaculate Heart Central coach Paul Alteri said.

“Our girls need to get games in, time on the field, competing against an opponent. The short season hinders player development and there’s nothing good about that,” he added.

Can they play the slate?: The worst-case scenario for area teams is they are unable to play the required games necessary to qualify for sectionals. Teams in the “A” Division need to play 12 games, the “B” Division has 16, the “C” Division has 15 games and the “D” Division minimum is 14.

Even in a normal season, rainouts tend to cause a flurry of makeup dates late in the year. South Lewis, for example, played four games in a five-day period to end its regular season last year because of rainouts.

“The biggest challenge to this season will be to get all of our games played,” South Jefferson coach Steve Randall said. “We do not have many rain dates as it is and now we have packed all of our games into less than a month.”

Injuries: In past seasons, a minor injury that might take a week to heal would keep a player out of the lineup for two, maybe three games.

This year, a week-long injury will essentially wipe out a quarter of that player’s season.

Players might also be more susceptible to getting hurt with very few rest days between games and, if rainouts continue to pile up, teams might be playing back-to-back doubleheaders down the stretch.

Pitching strategies: Softball teams usually have the luxury of riding their ace all season because the repeated underhand pitching motion isn’t as damaging to the arm and shoulder area as the overhand baseball delivery.

But that might not be the case this season.

“Teams with more than one quality pitcher will benefit,” Randall said. “With scheduled doubleheaders and five to six games a week, even softball pitchers get physically and mentally worn down.”

Veteran advantage: Teams that have experience playing together, especially on defense, will be at more of an advantage than ever before this season.

Teams still trying to gel or work in new starters had very little time to do so on grass thus far, and with the number of practices being so limited, it will be more difficult than usual to develop that chemistry as the season progresses.

“The biggest challenge for us will be to get some defensive cohesiveness,” Copenhagen coach John Cain said. “We haven’t been the best team defensively the last couple of years, and I believe that this will really hurt us in that department.”

The savvy veteran teams are also, in theory, better equipped to adjust to the unusual circumstances.

“Those teams are the ones that are best able to take it one day at a time and not focus on the larger task at hand,” Watertown coach Matt Hynes said.

Upset potential: The talented, veteran teams will be at an advantage overall but with so many games in such a short period of time, there is more potential to slip up and lose to an inferior opponent because of fatigue, injuries, etc.

“It gives more opportunities for less talented teams to beat stronger teams,” Cain said. “It is really tough to maintain that much focus so often. The key is being the team that can take advantage of that situation.”

Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers Frontier League softball for the Times. He can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net.

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