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Softball Team Built For Run At South-West Conference Championship



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If things play out as Coach Joanna Closs expects, Newtown High School’s softball team should again be part of a mix of South-West Conference title contenders when late May rolls around. And, once again, last year’s finalists — Masuk of Monroe and Brookfield — could be right there along with the Nighthawks, Closs anticipates.

Getting over the hump and reaching their first title game since 2018 and winning the championship for the first time since the second of back-to-back SWC storybook seasons in 2016 is the main goal for the Hawks this spring.

And why not? Newtown lost only two seniors and with a core of the team returning experience and exposure to the postseason atmosphere are big strengths that should go a long way.

Captains are senior pitcher/first baseman Caroline Gardner and junior catcher/shortstop Brianna Pellicone. Other key returnees are senior pitcher Sydney Adolfson, senior second baseman Ashley Hubner, junior center fielder Rachel Casagrande, junior right fielder Julia Berry, and sophomore shortstop Madison Thoesen.

The Hawks possessed power and patience at the plate, speed on the bases, strong pitching, and solid fielding last year. Closs anticipates seeing more of the same this campaign.

“All the butterflies are out for our younger players. Our outfield — Casagrande, Berry, Noelle Marrazzo — is going into year two being all together and Maddie Thoesen is now an experienced sophomore with a ton of talent. Couple that with a healthy Pellicone and experienced seniors and we are something special,” Closs said. “This team has been building for a while and I think they finally realize how special they can be. It will be very exciting to see how it all plays out on the field.”

Really strong pitching often wins versus good hitting, and the Hawks experienced a little of that combined with bad luck at the plate first-hand when No. 3 seed Brookfield edged the No. 2 seeded Hawks 1-0 in last year’s SWC semifinals. Brookfield pitcher Jillian Mitchell, who not only shut down the Nighthawks but also accounted for all of that offense in that game with a home run, graduated, so that is one matchup the Nighthawks will not have to worry about.

Although shut down on paper, the Newtown bats were not completely stymied by Brookfield — there were several hard-hit balls that went right at Brookfield fielders, so there is an element of luck that comes into play.

Masuk, which went on to capture the SWC title as well as each of the last four Class L state championships, also graduated its top starting pitcher, Kat Gallant. But the Panthers have made a habit of reloading with enough talent to be the team to beat to the tune of five straight SWC titles. That is over the course of six years with no playoff during the coronavirus-impacted 2020 campaign. Masuk also has what Closs considers to be “probably the best hitter in the state” in Natalie Lieto.

The last team not named Masuk to capture the crown was that 2016 NHS squad. Newtown would not only like to dethrone the Panthers but also make a run deep in the Class LL state playoffs.

“Hard work, dedication, focus, letting our natural talent shine,” Closs said will be what it takes for these Nighthawks to accomplish what they are setting out to do.

Newtown gets this season started with some familiar out-of-conference tests against FCIAC teams St Joseph of Trumbull, Fairfield Warde, and Darien, in succession in week one, assuming Mother Nature cooperates. The Nighthawks edged Warde and Darien and lost to St Joes a trio of closely-contested early clashes last April.

The season gets started on the road at St Joes, which has won a bulk of the FCIAC titles since 2000 and is often a state title contender, on Monday, April 3, at 4 pm.

Brookfield is scheduled to visit Treadwell Park for a game under the lights Monday, May 1, at 7 pm. The matchup with Masuk will take place in Monroe, scheduled for the second-to-last game of the slate, Monday, May 15 at 4 pm.

“It will definitely be a battle to win SWCs but we are more than capable of going toe to toe with anyone. St Joes is always a fun early game. They’ve gotten the best of us the last few years but it is always a tense game. We also have new teams on the schedule like Fitch, Woodland, and Waterford — teams I look forward to competing against to really test us,” Closs said.

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebee.com.

Rachel Casagrande takes off from third base during Newtown’s 8-0 win over New Milford, at Treadwell Park, on May 5. —Bee Photos, Hutchison
Madison Thoesen quickly emerged as a force at the plate in her freshman campaign and is looking to do more damage in her sophomore year.
Julia Berry watches the pitch as she prepares to run from second base.
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