Last Friday afternoon I was at the Pilgrim-Cranston West softball game at Pilgrim. The game featured two teams that should certainly be in the postseason and compete for a state championship this spring season.
Pilgrim ace pitcher Cat Fallon, who recently committed to playing Division I softball for the University of Maine, was stellar in the circle. Fallon finished with 17 strikeouts while allowing just two hits. Fallon stole the show, and was the center of my game story and deservedly so.
However, there was much more to this game to chew on, and my final takeaway is that Pilgrim should not only be considered a contender, but should be considered among the favorites to take home the title altogether. That’s not a take that will blow your hair back … Pilgrim was one of the top clubs in Division I last year and had a win in the postseason, there weren’t any glaring weaknesses, there were just a couple teams that were better.
But from what I saw on Friday, and I’ll admit that it is far too early for this, but what I saw was a team that was strong in every area … not just competent in every area, not just capable in every area, but a team that was legitimately impressive in every aspect of the game.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Fallon is arguably the top pitcher in the state, and has gotten off to an impressive start this season, allowing no runs and leading the team to a 2-0 record. Fallon will be able to carry the team at times throughout the season, and to have a pitcher with that kind of ability is dangerous for the competition. She is talented, experienced, and composed.
The Pats can hit very well also, and will be able to get production throughout the lineup. Between Madi D’Amato, Dyonna Rodas at the top of the order, Megan Cooney, Fallon and Jill Ricci in the middle, the Patriots’ top half of the lineup is about as good as any this season. Pilgrim also has some young players contributing toward the bottom of the order that should only get better with experience. Overall, 1-9, this team can hit.
While speaking with coach Paul Kennedy prior to the season, he essentially told me that the team knew it could pitch and it knew it could hit, so the focus was shoring up the defense. So far so good, as the team has yet to allow a run, and has made play after play and has remained consistent each passing inning.
Pilgrim has top-notch pitching, a quality offense, and a quickly emerging defense giving them as complete of a team as there is in Division I on paper and on the field. What separates this team from others, or what will separate it in the long run, are the intangible factors that were on full display on Friday.
Like I said already, it was only the second game of the season, but regardless, these were two of the top teams in the state doing battle, and to discount what Pilgrim showed just because of when it fell on the calendar would be silly.
What impressed me the most about this club on Friday though, was its ability to stay calm, take one step at a time, and always find a way to get the job done.
Whether it was Fallon working her way back in a count, the defense making a big play to get out of a jam, or the offense getting the score it needed to stay ahead, the Pats had a response for West time and time again.
Having that ability is a mix of three things in my eyes … in no specific order, having the ability to handle adversity in sports is a mix of the players’ mental toughness, the coach setting the tone, and having enough experience. The Pats have all three of those, and when combined with the talent that they also have, beating them in a best of three series will be an extremely tough task come June.
Cranston West played well overall on Friday. Their ace had a strong outing, and although Fallon shut down the offense, they were at least forcing her to pitch deep into counts, and even forced a few walks and pressured the Pilgrim defense at times. The Falcons are a true playoff team, so this win was a big one for Pilgrim, even if it is early on in the year.
I have said this in the past, and will continue to say it for as long as I am a sports fan, but the best teams are the ones that have talent as well as intangibles. Having one or the other rarely works … even having both is sometimes not enough.
When looking at this Pilgrim team, what I see is a championship-caliber club. Sure, there is a ways to go. Anything can happen throughout the course of the season, so I am certainly not declaring them state champions just yet.
However, Friday showcased the heights that Pilgrim can reach if it continues to stay focused and healthy. The Pats excel in every area on the field, as well as every area off of it. Having the ability to handle adversity while getting the most out of your talent is the key to success in sports, and Pilgrim is already showing that it is capable of doing just that this season.