If you had to count the number of softball teams in the Blackstone Valley who should post winning records this season, youâ€™re definitely going to need every finger on your two hands to total them up.
First, you have to start with the regionâ€™s top three teams who play in arguably the toughest division in the state, the Division I-North circuit. Defending state champion Cumberland, two-time state finalist Mount St. Charles, and Lincoln all reside here and figure to be fiercely battling it out for first place once again this season.
In Division II-North, it looks like thereâ€™s going to be another three-team battle for the top of the standings brewing with North Smithfield, Woonsocket, and Burrillville, and in Division II-East, Tolman is a heavy favorite to capture that regular-season title and go far in the postseason.
And in Division III, neighboring rivals Davies, Shea, and Central Falls should be in the hunt once again for the championship.
With the regular season already one week old and several teams still trying to work out the early-season kinks, hereâ€™s a brief look at each division and what the local teams in each of them look like in the early going.
The bullâ€™s eye is square on the back of Cumberland this season. The Clippers, who are 2-0, seized the first state championship in the programâ€™s history last June and will defend their title behind a fairly young group that is led by only two returning starters, co-captains Becky Geddes and Samantha Bertheman.
Geddes, the lone senior on the team, returns to third base, while Bertheman, a junior, moves from right field to shortstop. Another starter from last seasonâ€™s team, junior All-State center fielder Bridget Connors, is out for the year with a knee injury.
The Clippers, who graduated three All-State players among their six starters, will try to fill in the blanks behind juniors such as right fielder Tayla Noke, center fielder Alexis Descoteaux, and first baseman Caylin Legare, as well as the sophomore battery of pitcher Juliet Nelson and catcher Janelle Hashway.
The Mounties, who have kicked off their season with a surprising 0-2 record, also lost a handful of quality starters to graduation, but bring back a pair of URI-bound seniors, pitcher Olivia Hendricks and All-State shortstop Emily Hendricks, for the twin sistersâ€™ fourth varsity seasons.
Senior center fielder Taylor Messier and senior third baseman Aria DiMeo are also back, as are two sophomores who were big contributors to last seasonâ€™s team as ninth graders, Briana Castro and Kristen Rodrigues. Castro, who was last yearâ€™s second baseman, is now the catcher, and Rodrigues gives Mount a valuable bat and another pitcher.
The Lions may be in the best shape of the three local I-North teams. They lost just three starters to graduation and return arguably the best player in the state in University of Virginia-bound shortstop-pitcher Lindsay Mayer.
The junior All-Stater not only has three doubles and four walks in the Lionsâ€™ first two contests (both victories), but she also had 28 strikeouts in 14 innings of work on the mound.
She joins senior center fielder Emma Hart and senior catcher Allie Dzialo as the tri-captains, and they join junior infielder Emily Bouthillette and freshman standout Stacy Mayer (four hits, three RBIs) in a vaunted lineup.
In Division I-Central, East Providence, which has not had a winning regular season since averaging 14 victories a season from 1999-2005, should return to its winning ways this year behind a lineup loaded with seniors and juniors.
Left fielder Casey Botelho, center fielder Amanda Horton, and team captain and designated hitter Jen Winter lead the seniors on the roster, and the three top juniors are ace pitcher Lauren Discuillo, catcher Lindsee Allienello, and shortstop Amy DeCastro.
Junior third baseman Lucianna Medici is E.P.â€™s top first-year player and could be batting near the top of the batting order.
The Tigers, who are 27-9 in their two seasons as a Division II-East club, will again be a force to be reckoned with, as they feature a squad with only three seniors (Alex Lacoste, Sara Summerly, and Katherine Therriault), but one of the best junior classes in their entire division.
Lacoste, a shortstop-pitcher who shined at the top of the lineup last year, keys a potent lineup that also has junior infielders Jordyn Klemanchuck and Ashley Hessler, junior outfielders Ashley Clark and Brittany Bilodeau, and junior ace pitcher Olivia Larson.
The Tigers, who will play seven night games this season, opened their season last week with a dominating 25-0 victory over Classical.
Last year, the Northmen fielded a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores that posted a 10-6 mark that was their best record in six seasons. Most of that group is back this season and looking to produce a better performance.
Senior left fielder Sidra Ethier is the lone senior in an excellent lineup that has sophomore right fielder Katherine West and shortstop Jess Tremblay atop the order and junior first baseman Megan Brodeur, junior second baseman Tara Larson, and sophomore third baseman Angela Pasquarielli in the 3-4-5 spots.
Junior catcher Sam Archambault and speedy center fielder Jamie LaFazia are also key returnees, as is sophomore pitcher Karissa Carlton, who struck out 11 batters and allowed one hit in a win over Burrillville last Friday.
Woonsocket struggled in its first season as a Division II team last year, going 1-15, but the Novans are off to a 2-0 start this spring and should be in line for many more victories.
Senior catcher Kelsey Boucher is the best player in the league at her position, and the Novans also boast solid players in seniors Allyson Cartier and Caitlyn Marcoux and juniors Amanda Alexion and Taylor Kerrigan.
The top addition to the Novans may be freshman pitcher Amanda Nunez, who allowed six hits in 12 innings during last weekâ€™s games and gives Woonsocket a potent middle-of-the-order bat.
After posting back-to-back .500 seasons, Burrillville could well be in line for a winning campaign behind a veteran lineup and hard-throwing junior pitcher Cassidy Tedeschi, who fanned 24 batters and yielded seven hits in two starts last week.
The Broncos, who have only two seniors (outfielders Emmalyne Rogers and Haley Anderson) on its 15-player roster, are paced by junior shortstop Alyssa Lemire, junior third baseman Ashley Spear, and sophomore center Tori Libby. The Fernandez sisters, sophomores Marissa and Mikayla, also patrol the right side of the infield.
St. Raphael, which has won just one league contest in the last three years, got its season off to a promising start by posting an 11-10 victory over Division I-East foe Mount Hope.
The Saints have a senior-less squad this season, but the cupboard is far from bare with juniors Quinci Eauceo and Lauren Sequin leading the way. Pitcher Kaylee Sylvestre and catcher Alexis Vieira gives SRA a promising freshman battery.
The team to beat could be Davies, which has averaged 12 victories a season in its five seasons as a fastpitch squad and is currently off to a strong 3-0 start that has seen the Patriots outscore their opponents, 35-3.
Senior shortstop Wilmarie Cruz and outfielders Christina Depina and Caterina Martinez lead the Patriots, as does junior third baseman Kaitlin Flynn and the talented freshman battery of pitcher Madison Goodhart and catcher Madison Cooper.
Junior second baseman Rosaliz Torres went 4-for-4 and drove in nine runs in a victory over Block Island on Saturday, and sophomore Kassie Therrien and Waleska Kelly are also off to strong starts this season.
Shea went 11-5 a season ago -- its finest record in its five years as a fastpitch team -- and with the cast of players the Raiders have coming back, they could better than mark.
Junior catcher Jenna Senecal is one of the divisionâ€™s best players, and senior infielders Brittney Waters and Aly Cohen, junior infielder Caitlin Salisbury, and senior outfielders Catarina Coelho and Alex Baez are also back.
The Raiders, who opened their season with a 9-4 win over Mount Pleasant, also have two newcomers who promise to make big contributions, senior ace pitcher Randi Gauvin, a transfer student from North Providence, and junior Jacelyn Senecal, Jennaâ€™s sister.
Central Falls, which is 36-14 over the last three seasons and lost to Central in last yearâ€™s Division III title game, will try to return to the finals with a veteran club that has most of its players in the senior and junior classes.
Senior Shariela Jimenez and junior Megan Faria are back in the outfield, and the infield contains seniors Sasha Gonzalez and Kassandra Vega.
Bishop Keough won its first game in three years last Wednesday by pounding Hope, 17-1. Are many more wins on the way? Judging by this springâ€™s roster, there should be.
The Koalas may have found their ace pitcher in freshman Gabriella Cazzarro, who fired a splendid one-hitter in the win over the Blue Wave. Senior catcher Shataga Hillard is one of the eight 12th graders on the roster.